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story.lead_photo.caption The Benton County Courthouse. - Photo by Ben Goff

BENTONVILLE -- Benton County officials on Thursday agreed to pay $1.5 million to a Monte Ne woman and her family for injuries and damages she suffered when a road sweeper went out of control and crashed into her home.

George Spence, county attorney, and County Judge Barry Moehring both said state law provides the county government with tort immunity, a protection from personal injury. The county also has an insurance policy through the Association of Arkansas Counties that will pay $50,000 to the victim and her family lawsuits.

Radio system

The Benton County Quorum Court approved spending $3.75 million Thursday for a new radio system for the Sheriff’s Office and Jail and other departments. Tom Allen, justice of the peace for District 4 and chairman of the Finance Committee, said that panel will consider how to pay the money when it meets at 6 p.m. Oct. 2 in the Quorum Courtroom in the County Administration Building, 215 E. Central Ave. in Bentonville.

Source: Staff report

"The nature of the tragedy was such that I felt we needed to do more than what was provided for by the insurance policy," Moehring said. "The family has been through a terrible tragedy. Our discussions always came back to what was the right thing to do for that family."

Spence said the circumstances of this accident are unique in his experience and the same law giving the county tort immunity also allows public entities to hear and settle claims. The money will be paid from the general fund reserve, Spence and Moehring said. Spence said the settlement considered the circumstances of the accident, the severity of the injuries, and the lack of fault with the Ayala family.

"We had to strike a balance," Spence said.

The Quorum Court unanimously and without discussion approved the $1.5 million settlement at its Thursday meeting.

According to information from the county, Teresa Ayala and her 9-day-old son, Juan, were both hospitalized after the June 6, 2017, incident.

In a March 9, letter to the county, attorney Todd Lewis said Teresa Ayala's husband had left for work before the accident, leaving his wife, son and 7-year-old daughter, Bryssa, at home. Teresa Ayala and Juan were sleeping on the living room sofa and Bryssa was in an adjacent bedroom. According to the letter, the county's "multi-ton street sweeper" crashed through the side of the house "crushing Teresa and Juan and pinning them underneath the sweeper and a pile of debris that was once their home."

According to Lewis' letter, the sweeper "jumped out of gear" the day before the accident and hadn't been repaired. The machine was being used on Canal Street, described as a "steep hillside" with the Ayala home at the foot of the hill. According to the letter, as the sweeper was moving down the hill, it again fell out of gear and began to move downhill at a high rate of speed, reaching an estimated 59 mph. When it the reached the bottom of Canal Street it reportedly went airborne for about 30 feet before it crashed into the home.

The pair were trapped underneath for about an hour, according to Lewis' letter. Teresa Ayala "had numerous open head wounds, the right side of her face was crushed, she had a broken hip, a crushed pelvis, and multiple other injuries." After being taken to Mercy Hospital in Springfield, Mo., by helicopter, Ayala was put in to a drug-induced coma for the next two weeks. She underwent seven hours of surgery initially and had numerous other surgical procedures.

In his initial letter, Lewis made a claim on behalf of the Ayala family for $12.5 million to cover pain and suffering, medical expenses, the loss of their home and Teresa Ayala's loss of future earnings.

NW News on 09/28/2018

Print Headline: County officials OK accident payment

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