The family of a young Omaha woman killed when her car rear-ended a city street maintenance truck has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the city.
The family's attorney said that not only was the woman's death wrong, so was the city's suggestion that she was distracted when she crashed into a city truck that was stopped in the middle of the road near 129th Street and West Maple Road.
Attorneys Brian Jorde and David Domina spent one full page of the nine-page lawsuit referring to the city's attempts to ferret out whether Alicia Rea — a 24-year-old nursing college graduate — had been sending a text message or otherwise using her cellphone at the time of the Oct. 20, 2010, crash.
Those subpoenas, filed by the city, led to no indications that she was distracted, Jorde said.
“Nothing,” Jorde said. “No Internet searches. No texts. No calls.
“She was totally against that type of thing. The city thought it was going to be the smoking gun. It turned out to be nothing.”
The issue was not that Rea was distracted but that the city didn't do enough to attract attention to the truck, Jorde said. The crew of the truck reportedly was patching potholes.
The lawsuit, filed in Douglas County District Court, contends that the city had no “shadow vehicles” — trucks that warn drivers of a stopped vehicle and workers ahead. No flashing arrow signs. No barricades or cones placed in the roadway.
Another driver interviewed by The World-Herald in the days after the crash said he had to swerve to dodge the truck.
“It's not a parking lot, it's a highway,” Jorde said. “It's not a matter of the city can just park a vehicle in the left lane of a highway and, gosh golly, let's just hope the other drivers swerve around it.”
Deputy City Attorney Tom Mumgaard said the city denies liability in the crash. The truck's hazard lights and beacon — the yellow light atop the truck — were on, he said.
Mumgaard defended the city's subpoenas of records from Rea's phone and the black box of her Volkswagen Passat. He said the city had the duty to flesh out any factors that may have contributed to the crash. He denied characterizations that the records turned up nothing, though he declined to detail what may have been turned up.
And he said the city intends to file a counterclaim, contending that Rea was at fault.
Any lawsuit over a car crash is a weighing of one driver's fault against another's, he said.
The city will argue that Rea should have been able to see a large orange truck in the middle of West Maple Road.
“That will be an issue in this case,” Mumgaard said. “It's an issue in any rear-ender case. By the rules of the road, people are not supposed to run into the back of a vehicle.”
The lawsuit says the Rea family has suffered more than $10 million in damages.
Jorde said Rea's loved ones — father Robert Rea, mother Tammi Trausch and sister Anna Rea — are on a mission to improve safety for motorists, as well as the workers who labor in front of the trucks.
He described Alicia Rea as a bright young woman who worked her way through college — graduating from the University of Nebraska College of Nursing in 2009. She loved to bike, run and travel.
“She was an amazing person,” Jorde said.
“She was very concerned about the inequality of people in the community. Just a super young woman.”
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