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Family sues Santa Rosa over deadly crosswalk crash

In this August 2011 file photo, children gather at a shrine dedicated to Christopher Rowe at Rockwell Place and West Ninth Street in Santa Rosa, where Rowe was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver.

KENT PORTER/Press Democrat
Published: Friday, March 8, 2013 at 4:35 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 8, 2013 at 4:35 p.m.

The family of a 4-year-old boy killed by a hit-and-run driver in a Santa Rosa crosswalk has filed a wrongful death suit against the city alleging it allowed dangerous conditions to exist that caused the crash.

Christopher “Buddy” Rowe was killed on West Ninth Street near Rockwell Place in 2011 when he crossed the street with his mother and two sisters on the way to Jacobs Park.

He was struck by Marcos Lopez-Garcia, 22, of Santa Rosa, who fled but was found the same day. The pizza restaurant worker admitted charges of vehicular manslaughter and leaving the scene of a crash and was sentenced to four years in prison.

Last fall, the Rowe family sued the city, claiming the crosswalk was unsafe. Legal papers say the crosswalk was in a dangerous location with inadequate warning and speed limit signs, which were partially obscured by passing traffic and untrimmed foliage.

The family is seeking damages for pain and suffering as well as lost wages and funeral expenses.

“The collision was directly and legally caused by the negligent acts and/or omissions of the city,” Santa Rosa attorney Michael D. Green wrote in the 33-page suit.

City officials denied the crosswalk was dangerous or contributed to the death.

Instead, City Attorney Caroline Fowler said the driver was mostly responsible. She said the city was filing a cross-complaint against Lopez-Garcia, who will be deported when he is released in a few months.

Also, she said investigators were looking into whether the mother played a role by failing to supervise her son as he crossed the street.

She accused the family of making broad allegations and going after the city's “deep pockets.”

“The accident was not caused by the street or any public property,” Fowler said.

However, the family won a pretrial motion this week when Judge Eliot Daum refused to strike portions of the suit. Green said the case could go before a jury as soon as this summer.

The crash happened in the afternoon on Aug. 18, 2011 as the victim and his two sisters and mother Michelle Rowe were crossing West Ninth Street in a marked crosswalk.

Lopez-Garcia, who was westbound, apparently did not see the family and struck the son, who was lagging behind the others. The child died at an Oakland hospital the next day.

The driver fled to nearby Finley Park, where he was picked up by his girlfriend. He was arrested later that day with help from a man who heard about the crash on a police scanner and followed Lopez-Garcia's car.

Later, Lopez-Garcia told police his view was partially blocked by a large truck and that he had difficulty seeing because the sun was shining in his eyes.

The unlicensed driver said he fled because he was scared.

The family's lawsuit alleges the crosswalk was made unsafe, in part by increased activity connected to the park since the crosswalk was designed. It claims West Ninth Street has a history of “pedestrian accidents and near-misses.”

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