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Will Fresno civil trial against Greyhound move to LA? Judge issues tentative ruling

Fresno Bee logoFresno Bee 7/15/2020 By Robert Rodriguez, The Fresno Bee

A Fresno County judge has denied a change of venue request brought by the families of three young woman killed in a crash involving a Greyhound bus 10 years ago.

The families, who have filed a negligence lawsuit against the national bus company, wanted their case moved out of Fresno, possibly to Los Angeles.

But Judge Rosemary McGuire said in her tentative ruling the victim’s lawyers didn’t present enough evidence to support moving the trial. At least not yet. She left open the opportunity to take the matter up again once the trial starts, said Fresno attorney Stuart Chandler.

“If it seems during our questioning of potential jurors that it affirms what we believe, that jurors are already influenced in favor of Greyhound, then we can revisit the issue,” Chandler said.

The judge acknowledged that the July 22, 2010 crash on Highway 99 just south of McKinley Avenue generated a substantial amount of news coverage and public comments on news websites. But she was not convinced an impartial jury could not be found in Fresno County.

“In the first place, plaintiff has not shown that everyone has seen the press reports. Furthermore, some of the press accounts could be considered sympathetic to plaintiffs...” she wrote. “Even if the entire jury pool saw the publicity, it is conjectural to say they have all been prejudiced against plaintiffs.”

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But lawyers representing the families of the victims, Sylvia Lopez Garay, 18, of Dinuba, Vanessa Gonzalez, 19, and Stephanie Cordoba, 20, both of Fresno, argued in court documents that finding a group of unbiased jurors would be next to impossible.

Attorney Danielle Lincors said many in the community are convinced that Garay, who the California Highway Patrol determined was driving drunk the night of the crash, was responsible for the crash.

But Lincors, who is with the Homampour Law Firm in Los Angeles, said the CHP got it wrong. Gonzalez was the driver and she had not been drinking.

The civil trial is expected to begin on Oct. 5. It will be the families’ second attempt at holding Greyhound responsible for the crash that killed their loved ones.

The first negligence lawsuit against Greyhound in 2015 ended with a jury deciding the bus line wasn’t at fault.

That verdict was later thrown out by Superior Court Judge Donald Black, who granted the families a new trial. Greyhound appealed, but the appellate court upheld Black’s decision to grant the families a new trial, saying the evidence did not support the verdict.

Lawyers for the victim’s families blame the bus company and its driver, James Jewett, for the fatal crash. They allege Jewett wasn’t wearing his required glasses and was speeding when he collided with the victim’s car on the freeway.

Jewett and two passengers on the bus also died in the crash.

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©2020 The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.)

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