Wrongful death suit filed against BISD over deadly crash in Mexico

By Kelly Holleran | May 26, 2009

The families of two educators killed last year when their van flipped into a ravine in Mexico have filed wrongful death suits against the school district, the driver, the maker of the van and others.

Denise Wenzel, Dorothy Gray, Gary Gray and Linda Cook were participating in a teacher immersion program in Mexico last May. The trip had been arranged and paid for by Beaumont Independent School District and Region 5 Education Service Center, court papers state.

On May 22, 2008, the group was traveling on winding, mountainous roads in an HIACE Toyota van driven by Hipolito Lopez Ramos.

"While rounding a curve, two of the van's wheels lifted causing the driver to lose control throwing the van off the side of the road into the ravine, killing Denise Wenzel," court papers say.

Dorothy Gray was also killed in the collision, and Gary Gray and Cook were severely injured.

Almost a year later, Jaqueline Ward, Gary Gray and Linda Cook filed separate lawsuits May 19 in Jefferson County District Court individually and on behalf of all wrongful death beneficiaries of Denise Wenzel and Dorothy Gray.

The suits name BISD, Region 5, Ramos, Camila Novoa Gonzalez and Toyota as defendants.

The plaintiffs allege BISD and Region 5 failed to provide a licensed driver for the program, failed to provide a safe vehicle and failed to provide a vehicle equipped with proper safety restraining equipment.

Ramos, the driver, was negligent by failing to keep a proper lookout, driving at an excessive rate of speed, failing to yield the right-of-way, failing to keep proper control and by failing to brake in time, the plaintiffs claim.

Defendant Gonzalez owns the hotel that arranged the teachers' transportation. The suits allege Gonzalez failed to ensure the driver was properly licensed or properly trained, failed to ensure the vehicle was appropriately designed and failed to ensure the vehicle was equipped with proper safety restraining devices.

The car maker Toyota is liable for the accident, the suits allege, because it designed a vehicle with a narrow wheel base, a high center of gravity and inaccessible and missing seat belts.

According to the complaints, Toyota also failed to include a warning about the vehicle's high center of gravity and that it was not appropriate for mountains.

The families claim that since the deaths of Wenzel and Dorothy Gray they have lost their moral support, care, advice, attention, comfort, counsel, love and affection, the complaints say.

They also suffered mental anguish, a loss of companionship and society and incurred medical and funeral expenses, according to the suits.

In addition, Gary Gray and Cook claim the wreck caused them physical pain, mental suffering and medical expenses in the past and future, plus a loss of earnings and earning capacity in the past and future, physical impairment and physical disfigurement in the past and future and emotional distress. They also lost their ability to enjoy life, according to the complaints.

J. Trenton Bond and Chris Portner of Reaud, Morgan and Quinn in Beaumont will be representing them.

The case has been assigned to Judge Milton Shuffield, 136th District Court.

Jefferson County District Court case number: D184-119.

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