A veering 2006 Kia sedan took the life of Ronald H. Norris, 55 years old from Orem, Utah near Phoenix AZ on February 17, 2010. According to the Arizona Republic, the driver of the Kia, one Miguel Angel Ortiz, 34 years old, fell asleep at the wheel as he was returning from dropping his father off at work. Apparently, his car was on cruise control and he veered off of Interstate 17 near Phoenix and ran into Ronald Norris, who was helping to change a tire on his friend’s, Danny Walton’s, 1996 Cadillac. (Both Norris and Walton were in town with their wives to attend the funeral of a loved one.) By reports, the driver of the Cadillac, Danny Walton, had pulled the car well off of the highway to change the tire when Ortiz veered off the road and struck Norris. The Cadillac itself was not hit.
Emergency crews arrived on the scene and attempted CPR, but were unfortunately unable to revive him. Sadly, he was pronounced dead at the scene. No citations were issued for the Kia driver for “simply falling asleep.”
My heart goes out to Ronald Norris’ family and friends, especially his wife, who was probably one of the first to get to her husband after this happened. I also feel for Mr. Ortiz, who by his actions, caused this tragic accident to happen.
Driving while fatigued or being sleep deprived is never justified. Utah has a campaign, including prominent signs along the I-15 highway, that tell motorists to pull over if they are drowsy. It’s hard to believe that there isn’t a citation that could be issued to the Kia driver. In Utah, I would think at a minimum the driver should be written up for Negligence Collision. I’m not sure if there would be sufficient evidence, though, to screen him for negligent homicide. His actions of driving while sleep deprived probably would not rise to the level of “reckless,” a state of mind required for a charge of this kind.
So Ronald Norris’ widow is now left with a claim against Mr. Ortiz. Practically speaking, claims against someone for a fatal accident such as this go through the at-fault driver’s insurance company, since most drivers don’t have liquid assets sufficient to pay above and beyond what the insurance might cover. In Arizona, though, minimum insurance limits are low: only $15,000 per person. Hopefully this driver carried more than that. There is no doubt, though, that whatever the limits are, it will not be sufficient to compensate for this great loss. In this case, then, there are potentially two additional “underinsured” policies that Mr. Norris’s estate can tap into: his own as well as the Mr. Walton’s. Additionally, there is “PIP” or personal injury protection coverage of $3,000 that can be used for funeral expenses.
I wish the families involved the best as they come to terms with this senseless tragedy.