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Family Files Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Goleta Industrial Accident

The family of a 21-year-old local man who was killed last month in a Goleta industrial accident has filed a wrongful death lawsuit, citing the negligence of several parties involved.

The death of Jose Ortiz of Goleta was “highly foreseeable,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed late last month on behalf of Ortiz’s 4-year-old son, Izaiah, and his mother, Gloria Rodriguez.

Their lives were forever changed on Sept. 16, when an 18-wheeler tractor-trailer pinned Ortiz against a loading dock at Gold Coast Dairy in Goleta, where he worked in the warehouse.

Santa Barbara County sheriff's deputies responded shortly before 11 p.m. to the incident in the 100 block of Aero Camino, and Ortiz was later pronounced dead at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.

Named as defendants in the lawsuit are Texas-based Dean Foods Co., which operates the Alta Dena Dairy company delivering milk to the local distributor; Defrancesco's Dairy Transport (DDT), the company that was contracted to make the delivery; and truck driver Cory Lopez, who was listed in court documents as a Santa Barbara County resident.

The complaint alleges that Deans Food Co. and DDT hired Lopez as a driver “with knowledge that defendant … is, and all times relevant was, an individual with a history of alcohol and drug abuse, and a history of operating automobiles and heavy machinery while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.”

Among several serious allegations, the suit states that Lopez was not qualified or trained to drive the company truck, which he recklessly backed up while intoxicated.

The complaint further alleges that Lopez was “subject to dangerous tendencies” and had caused numerous other vehicle collisions in the past.

The named companies were also accused of conspiring to conceal the fact that Lopez was allegedly intoxicated and sleep deprived at the time of the accident.

Representatives from both companies declined to comment Thursday on the pending litigation, although a DDT spokesperson said Lopez lives closer to the Rancho Cucamonga-based company and not in Santa Barbara County.

Ortiz’s family is seeking monetary and punitive damages in excess of $25,000 for loss of economic earnings, reimbursement of hospital bills and funeral and burial expenses, as well as emotional distress.

Los Angeles-based law firm Stoll, Nussbaum & Polakov filed the suit on behalf of the family following the accident, which is also still being investigated by the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA).

Attorney Bob Stoll told Noozhawk that two video cameras caught the accident on tape, clearly showing that the driver did not check to see that all workers were accounted for before backing up.

"Mr. Ortiz was actually facing the loading dock, with his back to the truck, and didn’t know it was coming, which is why he was crushed," Stoll said. "You do not back up unless you know where the people are on the ground."

Stoll called the incident “heartbreaking” and said Ortiz’s son and mother depended on his emotional support and income, as did his high-school sweetheart and longtime partner, Julia Muniz Vega, who is Izaiah’s mother.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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