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Local News

Mother of Former Coach Simon Chavez Files Lawsuit in Hit-and-Run Fatality

Complaint alleges negligence by the accused driver, two family members and a taxi company and driver

The family of a young Santa Barbara man who was struck and killed in a hit-and-run accident on Highway 101 earlier this year has filed a lawsuit for negligence and wrongful death against the cab company driving him home from a bar that evening.

Simon Chavez, 22, a former Santa Barbara High School baseball coach, was found just after 1 a.m. Jan. 15 on the southbound freeway lanes near the Ortega Street footbridge.

Several witnesses reported that Chavez had been staggering in traffic before he was struck, according to testimony from February in Santa Barbara County Superior Court.

Lau Van Huynh
Lau Van Huynh

The Coroner’s Office later released toxicology results that showed Chavez had a blood alcohol concentration of .256, more than three times the point at which a driver would be considered drunk.

California Highway Patrol officers tracked pieces of the white 2011 Hyundai Tucson, including the driver-side mirror, to Murrieta man Lau Van Huynh, who was driving the vehicle and did not stop after striking the young man.

He pleaded guilty to felony hit-and-run and hit-and-run with fatal injuries in March.

He was sentenced to three years of probation on the condition that he serve one year in the Santa Barbara County Jail and must pay more than $20,000 in restitution to Chavez’s family.

Now, Chavez’s mother, Ana Quintanar, has filed a suit against Huynh, two of his family members, a cab company and driver, seeking unspecified damages.

Quintanar is being represented by the law firm of Cappello & Noël, which is asking for a jury trial.

According to a complaint filed May 14 in Santa Barbara Superior Court, Lau Van Huynh, Viet Huynh, David Huynh, Thomas Rhyne, Joshua Klein and Absolute Cab LLC, are all listed on the lawsuit as defendants.

David and Viet Huynh are listed in the suit as owners of the vehicle, Klein is listed as the owner and operator of the taxi company, and Rhyne is listed as the taxi driver the night that Chavez died.

The complaint describes the hours leading up to Chavez’s death, and begins by stating that Chavez met up with a group of friends at the Uptown Lounge on State Street, where he became intoxicated. Just after midnight, the bartender called Absolute Cab, and Rhyne arrived to pick Chavez up at 12:30 a.m.

A friend of Chavez’s paid Rhyne $20 to take him to his Cota Street home, and Rhyne acknowledged that the amount would be enough for the trip.

“By doing so, Rhyne, as an agent for Absolute Cab, assumed a duty to safely transport Chavez to his final destination,” the complaint states.

As Rhyne approached the Carrillo and De la Vina street intersection, Chavez reportedly asked how to open the car door, indicating that he was going to be sick. Rhyne came to a stop at the intersection’s red light and unlocked the door, and Chavez exited the vehicle into De la Vina Street.

Chavez walked across the street to the west, and “Rhyne observed him stumble backward after stepping up onto the curb and the continue to walk to the north side of Carrillo Street.”

The complaint states that Rhyne could see Chavez during the entire time the cab was stopped. After turning his hazard lights on to wait for Chavez, Rhyne moved the vehicle to a parking lot on the south side of Carrillo, the complaint states.

“Although, Rhyne continued to observe Chavez, he had no reason to believe that Chavez could see him,” the complaint states.

Chavez began walking west, away from the cab, and “was attempting to locate Rhyne” but was not able to. Instead, Rhyne left the area, the complaint states, and never contacted Chavez or called 9-1-1 for help.

Rhyne did return to the Uptown Lounge later to inform Chavez’s friend about what had occurred, “but he did not do so in a timely fashion so that immediate assistance could be rendered to Chavez.”

The complaint states that Chavez walked west on Carrillo and turned left onto the southbound ramp, where he was struck by Van Huynh on the highway.

Attorney Rob Bergsten, who is representing Absolute Cab, said his client acted appropriately.

In an email statement to Noozhawk on Tuesday, Bergsten said Chavez asked to leave the cab to vomit because of his prior drinking, and decided that he wouldn’t get back in. 

“At that point, Mr. Chavez was safely standing on a public sidewalk on the safe streets of downtown Santa Barbara,” Bergsten said, adding that legally, “my client could not force Mr. Chavez back into his cab. To do so would actually be illegal, and some attorney could then subsequently sue my client for false imprisonment.”

Bergsten said Chavez “put many passing motorists at risk of serious injury or death” by walking on the highway.

“Now, his mother is suing my client for her son’s own terrible decisions,” he wrote. “It is sad that Mr. Chavez was killed, and anyone would be sympathetic to his mother, but my client is not legally responsible for his death.”

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper 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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