On December 29, 2009, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent conducting surveillance on a suspected drug trafficker crashed his vehicle into a van carrying five people. The force of that collision killed the three adult women and injured the two children who were in that van -- and it forever changed the lives of the friends and family members who knew them. A few weeks ago, the families of those three women agreed to settle their wrongful death claims against the federal government for a total of $11 million.
The agreement was reached after two long days of mediation before a U.S. Magistrate Judge in San Diego. The agent responsible for the accident has also pleaded not guilty to three vehicular manslaughter charges in a criminal case in Imperial County Superior Court.
A key piece of evidence for both the civil and criminal cases stemming from this accident is a 200-page California Highway Patrol accident report, which concluded, among other things, that the agent's vehicle was traveling in excess of 100 mph only a few moments before he ran a stop sign and collided with the van.
Court documents in the criminal case have also revealed that the agent was travelling so fast in part because of poor communication between members of the surveillance team -- a problem caused by a combination of equipment malfunctions and other factors. As a result, a number of agents had to text or call each other on cell phones during the surveillance operation, a habit several studies have shown to be at least as dangerous as drunk driving.
An attorney for one of the families who accepted the settlement felt he could have recovered more if a trial had been held, but he also thought the $11 million sum was reasonable. The daughter of one of the women killed expressed relief that she and other family members would not have to relive the tragedy in a wrongful death trial, as well as the hope that government law enforcement agencies would adopt safer pursuit and surveillance protocols.
Source: U-T San Diego, "FAMILIES SETTLE FOR $11 MILLION IN CRASH WITH AGENT," Greg Moran, Feb. 17, 2012