Family sues driver, employer over fatal crash in northeast Spokane

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Balta Gonzalez was pedaling a bicycle along East Mission Avenue when a pickup truck veered across the median and suddenly accelerated in his direction.

Witnesses said Gonzalez, 45, was scooped onto the hood of the truck and flung onto the railroad tracks that intersect Mission near Rebecca Street. He died of blunt head injuries.

Prosecutors said the driver, Robert Hargrave, was intoxicated at the time of the crash on the evening of July 15, 2015. But five months later, a jury found Hargrave, 28, not guilty of vehicular homicide.

Gonzalez’s family is now suing Hargrave and his employer, the Baldwin Sign Company on North Pittsburg Street.

Attempts to reach Hargrave by phone Friday were unsuccessful, and the Baldwin Sign Company did not respond to a message seeking comment. It’s not clear if Hargrave returned to work there after the crash.

The civil suit, filed last week in Spokane County Superior Court, states that Baldwin is “vicariously liable” for Gonzalez’s death because Hargrave was driving a company truck.

Gonzalez was divorced and working in Spokane. His three daughters, who live in Yakima, are seeking damages for his death. The youngest, a minor, had been dependent on Gonzalez and currently lives with her mother.

“It’s just tragic,” said Vito de la Cruz, the attorney representing Gonzalez’s estate.

Although the criminal case has no legal bearing on the civil suit, de la Cruz called the jury’s verdict “a bit surprising.”

“I’ve reviewed transcripts of the criminal case,” he said, “and expected a different result.”

Hargrave was alone in the truck and slammed into a retaining wall after striking Gonzalez, according to court documents. Officers reported that he kept his foot on the gas pedal even after the crash, causing the rear wheels to dig trenches in the grass and the tires to rip apart.

A responding paramedic said Hargrave had “pinpoint” pupils, according to court documents. A sheriff’s deputy later obtained a warrant for a sample of Hargrave’s blood, but a juror told The Spokesman-Review that investigators couldn’t get a sample because of Hargrave’s injuries.

Hargrave told investigators that he smoked marijuana every night to help him sleep, and that he didn’t remember the crash, according to court documents.

Sharon Rogers of Spokane Valley was an alternate juror who witnessed the trial but didn’t participate in jury deliberations.

“If I had stayed on the jury,” she said, “I think I would have found him guilty.”

But Anne Kirchner, a retired Salk Middle School teacher who served as a juror, said she wasn’t convinced that Hargrave was intoxicated. After hours of watching video of the crash and listening to expert testimony, she believes he had a seizure.

Kirchner said jurors voted unanimously for a not-guilty verdict, if not for one vote. At the same time, they were saddened by Gonzalez’s death.

“It was an incredibly sad trial because the poor guy was just trying to make a living,” she said.

To read the full article in the Spokesman, click here.