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Paralyzed Fiesta Island bicyclist sues city

"Simple and inexpensive remedies" could have prevented collision

Juan Carlos Vinolo
Juan Carlos Vinolo

Fiesta Island is more of a death trap than a "water wonderland biking bliss" (as described on the City of San Diego's website), says a new lawsuit filed by a bicyclist who was paralyzed after being struck by a wrong-way driver in August 2014.

On May 19, cyclist Juan Carlos Vinolo and his wife filed a lawsuit against the City of San Diego and the driver of the car in San Diego County Superior Court.

The lawsuit faults the City of San Diego for failing to maintain the roadway, for allowing city workers to drive the wrong way while performing maintenance of the island, and for keeping high berms on the side of the road, creating blind corners.

On the day he was struck, August 12, 2014, Vinolo met over a dozen road cyclists to practice riding in formations. While rounding a corner, the cyclists ran head on into the 1995 Geo Prizm 50-year-old Theresa Lynn Owens was driving the wrong way while high on meth.

Vinolo was thrown onto the windshield of Owens’s car, puncturing both lungs, damaging his kidney and spleen, and breaking six vertebrae. He was left paralyzed from the chest down. Vinolo spent 33 days in the hospital and will be in a wheelchair for the remainder of his life. Sentenced in July of last year, Owens will spend the next 19 years in state prison.

But Vinolo says Owens’s meth habit was not all to blame. The lawsuit says the city should pay for creating a dangerous condition for all pedestrians, thus making Fiesta Island the most dangerous roadway in San Diego.

"Plaintiffs allege that not only did the city fail to have any standards at Fiesta Island to increase bicyclist safety, but instead, the city created, fostered and maintained Fiesta Island in such a manner to exponentially increase the risk of serious injury to cyclists that use the Fiesta Island Road," reads Vinolo's complaint.

There are several reasons why the city is to blame, says the lawsuit. For starters, city workers are allowed to drive against traffic while conducting maintenance on the park. Doing so sets a "standard" and "indicate[s] to the citizens of San Diego that it is appropriate and acceptable to drive in either direction on Fiesta Island."

Then there are the blind corners created by overgrown bushes and high berms on the edge of the single-lane road. The bushes at the spot where Vinolo and other cyclists were injured had grown over a ten-foot limit.

The city showed culpability, according to the lawsuit, when, a week after the accident, mayor Kevin Faulconer and other city leaders attended a media event at Fiesta Island to show improvements made to the roadway, the trimming of bushes, and installation of new signs.

"The city's post-accident efforts reveal that very simple and inexpensive remedies existed to make the blind corner safer so that someone else is not seriously injured or killed. Despite such inexpensive and simple solutions existing, the City of San Diego [chose] not to make the road safe prior to this collision."

Vinolo and his wife are asking a jury to award them special and punitive damages. A hearing is scheduled for October 2016.

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Juan Carlos Vinolo
Juan Carlos Vinolo

Fiesta Island is more of a death trap than a "water wonderland biking bliss" (as described on the City of San Diego's website), says a new lawsuit filed by a bicyclist who was paralyzed after being struck by a wrong-way driver in August 2014.

On May 19, cyclist Juan Carlos Vinolo and his wife filed a lawsuit against the City of San Diego and the driver of the car in San Diego County Superior Court.

The lawsuit faults the City of San Diego for failing to maintain the roadway, for allowing city workers to drive the wrong way while performing maintenance of the island, and for keeping high berms on the side of the road, creating blind corners.

On the day he was struck, August 12, 2014, Vinolo met over a dozen road cyclists to practice riding in formations. While rounding a corner, the cyclists ran head on into the 1995 Geo Prizm 50-year-old Theresa Lynn Owens was driving the wrong way while high on meth.

Vinolo was thrown onto the windshield of Owens’s car, puncturing both lungs, damaging his kidney and spleen, and breaking six vertebrae. He was left paralyzed from the chest down. Vinolo spent 33 days in the hospital and will be in a wheelchair for the remainder of his life. Sentenced in July of last year, Owens will spend the next 19 years in state prison.

But Vinolo says Owens’s meth habit was not all to blame. The lawsuit says the city should pay for creating a dangerous condition for all pedestrians, thus making Fiesta Island the most dangerous roadway in San Diego.

"Plaintiffs allege that not only did the city fail to have any standards at Fiesta Island to increase bicyclist safety, but instead, the city created, fostered and maintained Fiesta Island in such a manner to exponentially increase the risk of serious injury to cyclists that use the Fiesta Island Road," reads Vinolo's complaint.

There are several reasons why the city is to blame, says the lawsuit. For starters, city workers are allowed to drive against traffic while conducting maintenance on the park. Doing so sets a "standard" and "indicate[s] to the citizens of San Diego that it is appropriate and acceptable to drive in either direction on Fiesta Island."

Then there are the blind corners created by overgrown bushes and high berms on the edge of the single-lane road. The bushes at the spot where Vinolo and other cyclists were injured had grown over a ten-foot limit.

The city showed culpability, according to the lawsuit, when, a week after the accident, mayor Kevin Faulconer and other city leaders attended a media event at Fiesta Island to show improvements made to the roadway, the trimming of bushes, and installation of new signs.

"The city's post-accident efforts reveal that very simple and inexpensive remedies existed to make the blind corner safer so that someone else is not seriously injured or killed. Despite such inexpensive and simple solutions existing, the City of San Diego [chose] not to make the road safe prior to this collision."

Vinolo and his wife are asking a jury to award them special and punitive damages. A hearing is scheduled for October 2016.

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Comments
1

As a bike rider myself, I understand the risks I take when sharing the road with motor vehicles, and I sympathize with Mr Vinolo. However, regarding the complaint entered by his counsel that: "city workers are allowed to drive against traffic while conducting maintenance on the park. Doing so sets a "standard" and "indicate[s] to the citizens of San Diego that it is appropriate and acceptable to drive in either direction on Fiesta Island."

Nice strategy, however, fire engines are allowed to drive Code 3 on city streets against traffic (only if absolutely necessary due to congested traffic - think Genesee Ave. at 4 -6 PM) for short distances, so this must indicate to the citizens of San Diego that it's appropriate and acceptable to drive in either direction on all city streets. I don't think so.

In order to prevent further litigation against the city re: Fiesta Island, it should be closed permanently to all vehicle and bicycle traffic, leaving only pedestrians and maybe those with dogs. The dogs will have to be muzzled, of course. If the owner of the dog doesn't scoop the poop (they rarely do) and someone slips and falls due to it, then the city will be held liable yet again. So, skip the dog addendum.

If Theresa Lynn Owens was driving and texting instead of being under the influence, would his counsel sue the phone manufacturer and the service carrier?

May 24, 2016

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