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Tampa could settle lawsuit over city truck that hit boy's tricycle

TAMPA — City Hall could pay $65,000 to settle a lawsuit filed on behalf of a boy who was hit and dragged under a city water meter reader's truck as he rode his tricycle at the age of 4.

Now 7, Esdras Vanegas was left with scars near his right eye, right ear and on the upper part of his body.

A plastic surgeon who examined the boy said repairing the scars probably would cost $35,000 now, but recommended that the surgery not take place until he is at least 14, when he will be grown and able to participate in his care.

In the meantime, teachers and fellow students ask him what happened, said his attorney, James Loper of Tampa.

The accident took place Nov. 24, 2009, on Fawnridge Circle, an area of unincorporated Hills­borough County that gets city water service.

Late that morning, city meter reader Willie Thornton Jr., then 52, was checking water meters and explaining the process to Donna Holt, a resident of Fawnridge Circle.

As Thornton got back into his truck and got ready to start driving, Holt told some children in the area to clear out of the way, according to a Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office accident report. But the deputy said neither Thornton nor Holt saw Esdras, who was riding a plastic "Big Wheel"-style tricycle in front of the light pickup truck. The truck hit Esdras, who was caught by the vehicle's undercarriage and dragged 13 feet.

Thornton was not cited, and his city personnel file includes no record of discipline as a result of the accident. A city employee for nearly 10 years, he has consistently received excellent and outstanding performance ratings, including for his attention to safety.

But a suit filed last year in Hillsborough Circuit Court contended Thornton was negligent. "When you're in a residential community, and you know that there are minor children on or near the street, you have a duty to use reasonable care," Loper said.

In court pleadings, the city denied that Thornton was negligent and countered that Esdras' mother should have watched him more closely.

The lawsuit was filed by Donna and Michael Holt, who have a long-standing relationship with the boy's family and were authorized by his mother to pursue the case.

"They're getting nothing out of this," Loper said. "They're just good Christian people, looking out for the interests of this minor."

After attorney's fees and costs are deducted from the settlement, a total of $46,646 would be deposited to a restricted trust to benefit Esdras, court records show. As part of the case, a guardian ad litem has been appointed on the boy's behalf.

The City Council is scheduled to vote on the settlement Thursday. As is standard with such settlements, the city is not admitting liability. City Attorney James Shimberg Jr. declined to comment on the case or the settlement.

Richard Danielson can be reached at danielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403.

Tampa could settle lawsuit over city truck that hit boy's tricycle 12/04/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 4, 2012 11:21pm]
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