A Pima County jury awarded the parents of a Tucson boy killed by a drunk driver $40 million Friday. City taxpayers will be responsible for a third of that, with the driver and Chuy's restaurant sharing responsibility for the rest.
Jose Rincon Jr., 14, and a friend were riding their bicycles east on East Broadway near Harrison Road around 7:20 p.m. Jan. 12, 2008, when Glenda Rumsey struck both teens with her car. Rincon died.
Although the city was found to be only one-third responsible, its more than $13 million share is the largest individual judgment ever against the city, dwarfing the $1.75 million paid to the family of Deshun Chance Glover, who was electrocuted at the Hi Corbett Field complex in Reid Park in July 2008.
Rumsey, whose blood-alcohol level was 0.249 two hours after the crash, was sentenced to 14 years in prison last year. Chuy's, which is where she had been drinking, has already settled with the family for an undisclosed amount.
A lawyer for the family argued successfully that the city was partially at fault because of the poor design of the road.
City Attorney Mike Rankin said the city will appeal. He said he was surprised both by the amount and by the city's being found 33 percent responsible.
"This is shocking," Rankin said, adding he was stunned at the amount and "the notion the city would be equally responsible as a drunk driver that was three times the legal limit."
Jose and Adriana Rincon burst into tears when the verdict was read.
After having been through both a criminal and a civil trial, nothing has changed, Adriana Rincon said. "It doesn't bring him back. Tomorrow I still have to find a way to cope."
Jose Rincon said the lawsuit was never about money.
"The main reason we're here is for vindication and to carry the ball the whole 10 yards on (Jose Jr.'s) behalf," he said.
The three-way finding of blame validated their belief there was a "perfect storm" of variables that came together and took their son's life, Jose Rincon said.
"In my heart of hearts it started with Glenda Rumsey, but that doesn't excuse irresponsible business practices nor cavalier decision-making on the implementation of well-thought-out and carefully designed building plans," he said.
Last week, the Rincons' attorney, Ronald Mercaldo, told jurors a city engineer abandoned plans to add 5 feet of asphalt to the roadway during an improvement project, creating a large offset in the lanes on either side of Vozack Lane, just east of Harrison. As a result, Rumsey ended up in the bike lane when her lane ended and she tried to merge.
Rumsey's attorney, Stefano Corradini, agreed his client and Chuy's were largely responsible for the crash, but he, too, blamed the city because of the road design. He would not comment after the verdict.
Attorney Richard Davis, who defended the city, told jurors that engineers did nothing wrong. He blamed Rumsey, saying roads can't be designed to be drunken-driver-proof.
The jury deliberated less than three hours.
Mercaldo said he was grateful to the jury but noted the judgment will never compensate the Rincons for their loss.
Jose, a straight-A student at St. Michael's Parish Day School, died hours after he took entrance exams for Salpointe Catholic High School.
The middle of the Rincons' three children, Jose Jr. was known to be kind and an exceptional musician and talented athlete.
Judge Kenneth Lee presided over the trial.
Reporter Rob O'Dell contributed to this story. Contact reporter Kim Smith at 537-4241 or email@example.com