Morgan Hill vehicular manslaughter trial starts Monday

Sandra Arlia and her attorney Jaime Leanos address the judge at

The Santa Clara County Superior Court will hear more pre-trial
arguments before the trial for Sandra Arlia, a Morgan Hill resident
accused of vehicular manslaughter, begins.
The Santa Clara County Superior Court will hear more pre-trial arguments before the trial for Sandra Arlia, a Morgan Hill resident accused of vehicular manslaughter, begins.

The recently filed motions will be heard today, according to Arlia’s attorney, Jaime Leanos.

Arlia, 67, is accused of accidentally killing Rory Tomasello, 22 of Morgan Hill, in a traffic collision on West Edmundson Avenue Oct. 23, 2009.

Police say Arlia struck Tomasello with her Cadillac sport-utility vehicle as Tomasello was riding his bicycle through the mid-block crosswalk in front of the Centennial Recreation Center.

Tomasello, 22 of Morgan Hill, was not wearing a helmet. He was conscious at the scene of the accident, but was disoriented and transported to the hospital with redness on his neck and stomach, and complaints of pain. The Live Oak High School graduate, who friends described as a creative and aspiring playwright, died as a result of his injuries Nov. 2, 2009.

If convicted of the misdemeanor charge, Arlia faces up to one year in county jail.

“I think everyone involved feels it’s a traffic accident, but we don’t believe it’s a criminal matter,” Leanos said. “It’s more of a civil matter.”

Perhaps, as both parties and the courts have been busy on the civil side as well. Tom and Kathee Tomasello, Rory’s parents, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Arlia in Feb. 2010.

The Tomasellos and Arlia also filed complaints against the city of Morgan Hill, which owns the street and crosswalk in which Tomasello died, and the Santa Clara Valley Water District, which owns the bike path on either side of West Edmundson Avenue that is connected by the crosswalk.

Those claims alleged the public facilities were poorly designed, contributing to the accident.

Both agencies denied responsibility. Arlia’s claim against the water district was denied by the board of directors in July 2010. Counsel for Arlia filed suit in Santa Clara County Superior Court shortly after the board’s decision, but that suit was dismissed in Sept. 2010, SCVWD spokesman Marty Grimes said.

The Tomasellos’ claim against the SCVWD was also denied by the board of directors, and they did not file a lawsuit in response, Grimes said.

“The district considers both of these matters closed, with no liability on the part of the district,” Grimes said.

Morgan Hill city attorney Danny Wan could not be contacted by press time, but he has previously said the city denies all responsibility for the accident. In fact, last year the city filed a counter-complaint against Arlia, asking her to reimburse the city for legal expenses and release the city of all liability.

The accident investigation report filed by Morgan Hill Police said Arlia was the “primary cause” of the accident because she failed to yield to someone in a crosswalk. Police also said Tomasello was a “contributing cause” of the accident because he illegally rode a bicycle through the crosswalk without dismounting.

The city does not consider the crosswalk as part of the bike path.

Police also noted that a sign entering the crosswalk from the north side of West Edmundson Avenue states that bicyclists should dismount and walk their bicycles across the street. However, there was no similar sign on the south side of the street, where Tomasello began crossing.

Today’s “readiness” hearing will serve to ensure all the witnesses are ready to testify and all the desired evidence has been shared by both sides, D.A.’s office spokeswoman Lisa McCrary said.

If both sides are ready, the trial proceedings will start Monday with jury selection, which could continue for a couple days before opening arguments, McCrary said.

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