No sidewalk ramps for his wheelchair

By Tanya Mannes


June 14, 2007

PEGGY PEATTIE / Union-Tribune

Josefina Quinones is seeking $10 million, claiming the city of Chula Vista was negligent because it failed to install sidewalk ramps.

CHULA VISTA – The widow of a disabled man is suing the city of Chula Vista, saying her husband was fatally hit by a car because he couldn't get his wheelchair on the sidewalk.

Josefina Quinones is demanding $10 million, claiming the city was negligent because it failed to install sidewalk ramps.

James A. Quinones, 51, used an electric wheelchair after damaging his right leg in a fall. The morning of May 31, 2006, he was heading home on Industrial Boulevard, alongside the curb, when the driver of a stolen Honda hit his wheelchair, throwing him onto the pavement.

He died the next day.

“I told the police if the ramp had been there, my husband would not have died,” said Josefina Quinones, 53, who spoke in Spanish through an interpreter.

Quinones filed her lawsuit in December in San Diego Superior Court. She and the city will enter mediation today to reach a settlement.

Quinones is seeking compensation for the loss of her husband's income, pain and emotional suffering, medical bills and funeral expenses, and attorney's fees.

State law cited

Her attorney, Domingo Quintero, said people with disabilities have a statutory right of access to public streets and sidewalks. He cited California Government Code 4450. Since 1968, that law has set accessibility standards for public buildings and facilities.

Quintero said that fresh pavement and concrete indicates city crews recently did work on Industrial Boulevard.

“The law states that when cities repair the street and the sidewalks they must comply and bring it up to code,” Quintero said. “The city did not.”

The city did not address that allegation in its response to the lawsuit. Acting Assistant City Manager Scott Tulloch, the city engineer, refused to answer questions or supply documents about maintenance on Industrial Boulevard.

Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox also declined to comment on pending litigation.

In the city's response, assistant city attorney Bart Miesfeld denied the city is liable for Quinones' death. In a document filed with the court on March 8, Miesfeld said Quinones shouldn't have been in the road.

Miesfeld said James Quinones “had full knowledge of the conditions existing and appreciated the danger thereof.”

PEGGY PEATTIE / Union-Tribune

In happier times, this photo shows Josefina Quinones and her late husband, James A. Quinones.

 James Quinones was struck just a few blocks from the couple's home on Belvia Lane. That morning, he met his wife at the Palomar trolley stop as she returned from an appointment in San Diego, so she wouldn't have to walk home alone. The couple walked from Palomar and took a right on Industrial Boulevard.

When they crossed Ada Street, he couldn't get on the sidewalk because there was no ramp. He rode on the street and his wife walked next to him on the sidewalk.

Shortly after 11:15 a.m., a red Honda Civic hit his wheelchair.

“I heard a loud noise. He was in the air when I turned to look,” his wife said. “I threw my bag and tried to catch him and the car ran over my bag.”

The driver kept going, then abandoned the car.

Her husband landed in the road and soon lost consciousness, Quinones said.

He suffered major head injuries and two broken legs and was airlifted to UCSD Medical Center. His life support was disconnected the next day.

Hit-run driver sought

“What makes me sad is that my husband did everything he could to be able to walk again,” Quinones said, her eyes filling with tears. “I saw him doing exercises. He would say, 'In a few months I'll be driving again.' ”

During the past year, Quinones has supported herself by cleaning houses. She has moved in with a neighbor.

“I miss his companionship most of all,” she said.

Police asked for the public's help to find the driver of the car. On June 12, 2006, they arrested an 18-year-old suspect, on suspicion of felony hit-and-run, vehicular manslaughter and possession of a stolen vehicle, said Chula Vista Police Officer Ken Hicks.

The district attorney declined to prosecute the case, saying further investigation was needed. Hicks declined to describe what information was needed, saying it could jeopardize an ongoing investigation.