The children of a couple killed last year in a crash near Lompoc have filed a civil lawsuit against the driver and rental car companies, revealing more details about the collision that claimed the lives of Ruben and Bertha Betancourt.
Until the lawsuit, little has been known about the driver in the second vehicle that smashed head-on into the Betancourts car, killing them and critically injuring a son.
While the road is heavily used by members of the public as another route into the city of Lompoc, the Air Force has jurisdiction and investigated the head-on collision.
However, officials at Vandenberg Air Force Base released few details traditionally provided after similar crashes, angering community members.
The collision between two sedans occurred shortly before 12:30 p.m. Aug. 28 on Santa Lucia Canyon Road, near Klein Boulevard. The crash was near the Lompoc Federal Correctional Complex.
After repeated queries, Vandenberg Public Affairs officials eventually said the second driver was a civilian from Georgia, but declined to name the person, age, hometown or other details.
The civil lawsuit file in Santa Barbara County Superior Court in mid-December identified the driver as Shaquille Lindsey of Newton County, Georgia. He reportedly spent time in the Air Force.
The lawsuit also named EAN Holdings, Inc. and Enterprise Rent-A-Car Company of Los Angeles, along with several unnamed defendants.
The claim named Lindsey as the driver of the Dodge Challenger that was traveling south on Santa Lucia Canyon Road more than 20 mph over the speed limit.
At the time of impact, Lindsey’s vehicle was going at least 63 mph and had crossed over the double, solid-yellow lane markings, without braking, when he hit the Betancourts’ vehicle head-on.
The crash killed Ruben Betancourt, 51, and his wife, Bertha Betancourt, 57. One of their sons, Juan Betancourt, suffered serious injuries.
“Defendant, having ingested a large amount of drugs or alcohol knew, or should have known, of the probable seriousness of injury to others, which would result from their driving, and thus demonstrated a conscious disregard for the rights and safeties of others, thus constituting despicable conduct and malice,” the family’s lawsuit said.
The lawsuit claims Lindsey was cited at the scene for drunken driving and convicted of several crimes related to the death of the Betancourts.
However, Noozhawk could not confirm the Lindsey’s arrest or conviction in either federal or local court, with one official saying a report of a conviction was erroneous.
The lawsuit filed by Ranger Wiens from Harris Personal Injury Lawyers Inc. included five causes of action: negligence due to wrongful death, survival action, punitive damages, negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
The plaintiffs —identified as Juan Betancourt, Jose Betancourt, Rubi Betancourt and Teresa Servin — seek general damages, special damages to cover funeral, burial and other costs, economic damages, medical expenses and costs of the lawsuit.
They are seeking monetary and punitive damages exceeding $25,000.
Lindsey is represented by Alan J. Carnegie and Nita A. Lee from the Los Angeles law firm of Daniels, Fine, Israel, Schonbuch & Lebovits, LLP.
Enterprise and EAN Holdings are represented by Celeste Brecht, Matthew Gurvitz and Justin Nemeroff, all from Venable LLP.
The Betancourts’ attorney declined to comment and Lindsey’s attorney did not return a call seeking a comment.
In a later motion, Lindsey’s attorneys sought to remove exemplary and punitive damages saying the facts don’t support the request or prove malice.
“Plaintiffs rely on blanket allegations that Defendant was ‘arrested, charged and convicted…for homicide offenses including negligent manslaughter’ within three months of the accident,”
The Betancourts’ attorney opposed the motion.
“The standard is a conscious disregard for the safety of others and the facts pled here certainly fall within the punitive damages framework,” the lawsuit said.
Additionally, the lawsuit contended the case showed the defendants “acted maliciously and with a conscious disregard for the safety of the plaintiffs when they recklessly operated said vehicle causing the death of two human beings.”
Enterprise attorneys also sought an order to obtain the Air Force reports and other documents related to the investigation of the crash. The Air Force said they needed a judge to sign a subpoena before those documents could be released.
The family is seeking a jury trial with the case scheduled to return to Judge Tim Staffel’s courtroom for a case management conference April 18.