San Jose to pay six-figure settlement in traffic death case
Gina LaBlanc, whose son was killed by a tow truck driver near an underpass with broken city street lights, marched in 2017 for the first World Day of Remembrance event to honor traffic collision victims. Photo by Ramona Giwargis.

San Jose City Hall will shell out a six-figure settlement to the family of a man who was killed while walking near a dark overpass with broken lights — which should’ve been maintained by the city.

The settlement, which will be formally approved by the City Council on Tuesday, awards $100,000 to the parents of Kyle LaBlanc. The 18-year-old was killed in Jan. 2016 while walking in the bike lane westbound on Curtner Avenue beneath the Highway 87 overpass. He was struck by tow truck driven by Mark Staton, an employee of Tri City Recovery, shortly after midnight.

“The City-maintained lights under the overpass above the westbound lanes were not functioning at the time of the accident,” San Jose city attorney Rick Doyle wrote in his settlement memo.

While San Jose has adopted a “Vision Zero” policy which set a lofty goal of zero deaths and zero serious injuries on roadways, the number of traffic deaths in San Jose spiked last year. In 2018, 52 people were killed on San Jose roadways and nearly half of them — 23 — were pedestrians and cyclists, according to San Jose police.

Ten of them were killed while walking, and four of those 10 were hit-and-runs. The number of pedestrian deaths was just one short of the city’s 20-year high of 24 fatalities in 2014.

There were 46 deaths in 2017 with 16 involving pedestrians.

“We’ve seen throughout the year that speed is a primary collision factor,” Colin Heyne, public information manager for the city transportation department, told San José Spotlight earlier this year. “Getting people to slow down is one thing we’re focused on.”

After LaBlanc was killed two years ago, his parents, Steven and Gina LaBlanc sued the driver, Tri City Recovery and the city. They alleged that the driver was negligent and that the city is responsible “for a dangerous condition of public property.” San Jose filed a counter complaint against the driver and tow truck company, but ultimately decided to settled the case to avoid further litigation.

In addition to the settlement from San Jose, the LaBlanc family will receive $500,000 from the driver and tow truck company. Each side will bear their own costs, Doyle said in his memo, including attorney fees.

Photo courtesy of Stanbridge Academy.

In Nov. 2017, Gina LaBlanc was among dozens who marched through downtown San Jose for the city’s first World Day of Remembrance event to honor traffic collision victims and call for speed cameras, better lighting and traffic signage.

Gina LaBlanc said in 2017 that better speed enforcement could’ve saved her son. She described Kyle, who attended Stanbridge Academy in San Mateo and played basketball, as an energetic teen who was a computer whiz and dreamed of working at Google. He died five months before graduating high school.

“I miss his energy,” LaBlanc said at the time. She was a nurse who quit her job at Valley Medical Center after her son died there. “They’re not supposed to die before us. We’re supposed to outlive our children. It hurts every day and it’ll never stop hurting.”

San Jose city officials have struggled to keep up with a spike in service requests, including changing streetlights. A search on the city’s My San Jose application, which allows residents to report streetlight outages on city property, had nearly 400 requests pending in May alone. Many of the requests complained about city-owned lights being dark for months.

The San Jose City Council is expected to approve the settlement to the LaBlanc family at its council meeting Tuesday.

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