Las Vegas Sun

May 21, 2019

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County settles case of teens killed on I-15

Clark County has agreed to pay $3.25 million to the families of the six teenagers who were killed March 19, 2000, as they picked up trash along Interstate 15 north of Las Vegas as part of a county work program.

The money represents the county's share of a settlement reached in a civil lawsuit against Clark County and Republic Services of Nevada.

Walt Cannon, who represents Clark County and the 13 county employees named in the lawsuit, confirmed the amount of the county's settlement on Tuesday.

Should Clark County Commissioners agree to the settlement during their meeting Dec. 4, the county will pay $1 million to the families through its own insurance, Cannon said. The remainder will be paid for by the county's insurance carriers.

Marty Keach, who represents the majority of the victims' parents along with Rob Murdock, said the Republic Services of Nevada settlement will remain confidential.

Thomas Kummer, who represents Republic Services, would only say he believes all parties are satisfied with the settlement.

An agreement could not be worked out with Williams' insurance company, and the lawsuit against her is pending, Keach said.

Although they agreed to the settlement after two days of mediation earlier this month, neither the county nor Republic Services admit culpability in the crash.

Scott Garner Jr., 14, Alberto Puig, 16, Anthony Smith, 14, Jennifer Booth, 16, Malena Stoltzfus, 15, and Rebeccah Glicken, 15, were struck and killed by Williams' van as they picked up trash as punishment for minor crimes.

Republic Services picks up trash for the county and takes it to the landfill. The teens were responsible for picking up the trash that had blown out of the dump trucks along the way. The county has since halted the community service program and now requires its juvenile probationers to attend Saturday classes.

Williams, 22, was sentenced in March to 18 to 48 years in prison after a jury found her guilty on six counts of felony driving with a prohibited substance (marijuana) in her blood.

Cannon said there were a number of reasons the county agreed to settle the lawsuit.

The litigation would have dragged on for years, a federal judge recently issued a crucial ruling affecting damages and it was in the best interest of the county's residents given the tragic nature of the accident, Cannon said.

Keach said U.S. District Judge Kent Dawson recently ruled that the plaintiffs could pursue their case in federal court by alleging the victims' civil rights were violated.

As a result of that ruling, a cap of $50,000 per victim was removed, meaning the county could be forced to paid untold amounts, awarded by a jury, to the victims' families.

Once Dawson made his decision, the county made every effort to settle the case to the families' satisfaction, Keach said.

"The county, rather than trying to get the case dismissed on the civil rights grounds, came to the victims and said, 'We want to help,' " Keach said. "They were very generous and very compassionate. This is the one time where the county really stepped up and did everything possible to help these people out."

Keach said he doesn't expect the commissioners to balk at the settlement on Tuesday.

"The parents of all of these children are relieved this part is over, and they are thankful to the county and Republic Services for their willingness to resolve this case," Keach said. "The commissioners throughout this thing have been extremely compassionate and recognize what the families have gone through."

Keach, who said each of the families have agreed to split the money equally, believes a settlement could still be reached with Williams, although no mediation appointments are currently scheduled.

"These parents will obviously never forget their children, and they will live with the pain and hurt of their loss forever," Keach said. "They would still like to resolve the case with Jessica and her insurance company, however."

Brigitte Smith, Anthony Smith's mother, and Doug Gould, Scottie Garner Jr.'s stepfather, said they were unaware of the settlement. Attempts to reach the other parents were unsuccessful.

Williams' attorney, John Watkins, has appealed her conviction, arguing that the prohibited substance law, under which Williams was convicted, is unconstitutional.

The law is unconstitutional, Watkins says, because it punishes people with low levels of marijuana in their systems despite the fact that scientific studies have shown no correlation between the drug and poor driving.

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