City, county face lawsuits alleging poor road conditions led to crashes 

The wife of a Salem pedestrian who was struck and killed by a driver in 2019 is suing the city, county and state, alleging negligence led to her husband’s death.

The estate of Joseph Rodriguez on Aug. 8 sued the city of Salem, Marion County Department of Public Works, Oregon Department of Transportation, the driver and his parents in Marion County Circuit Court, seeking $3.25 million.

It’s the second lawsuit filed this month against the city alleging that unmaintained vegetation and lack of street lights contributed to fatal crashes. 

In another complaint filed Aug. 4 against the city in Marion County Circuit Court, Douglas Schumann alleged that a driver two years ago struck a vehicle in which his daughter, Sara Schumann, was a passenger on Southeast Mildred Lane. She died at the scene.

Vegetation near the road obstructed the views of both drivers in the crash that killed Schumann, the complaint said.

In the case involving Rodriguez’s death, his estate alleged the city, county and state knew or should have known the roadway on Northeast Lakeside Drive was “unreasonably dangerous” for pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers, listing reasons such as lack of lighting, sidewalks and crosswalks along the road, vegetation obstructing drivers’ view of the street, and the number of previous crashes there or nearby.

The complaint describes the three agencies as collectively being responsible for the design, construction and maintenance of the roadway on Northeast Lakeside Drive, which lies northeast of Salem city limits in Marion County.

At about 10:45 p.m. on Aug. 8, 2019, a Keizer teen called 911 to report a pedestrian had walked in front of his car.

Ethan Martin, who was 16 at the time of the crash, told deputies he was driving about 35 miles per hour when Rodriguez “appeared out of nowhere,” a Marion County Sheriff’s Office incident report said.

Rodriguez had recently married and lived with his wife. After an argument, he left their home in dark clothing and was walking south with a suitcase behind him along the 7500 block of Northeast Lakeside Drive when the crash occurred, according to the complaint and an attached death report. He died at the scene.

“No evidence of impairment or other distracted driving,” the report said. “The roadway was dark and not illuminated by any street lights.”

The complaint said Martin failed to slow, stop or maneuver away from Rodriguez, or honk to warn Rodriguez he was approaching. 

If the city, county and state had enforced rules requiring property owners to maintain their pedestrian walkway, hedges, trees and plants, the complaint said drivers on the roadway wouldn’t have had an obstructed view.

It said those agencies also failed to properly design the location and placement of pedestrian and traffic control devices or a safe pedestrian walkway, correct “a known hazard for drivers given the history of accidents in that area,” and appropriately maintain the road to give drivers a clear view of pedestrians.

His estate is seeking judgments for economic damages to not exceed $100,000 and noneconomic damages to not exceed $3.15 million.

Marion County spokesman Jon Heynen and ODOT spokesman David House both declined to comment Friday, citing pending litigation.

“The city takes all loss of life very seriously. Our deepest sympathies go out to all of those that were affected by these tragic events, city spokesman John Winn wrote in an email Friday. “Due to the fact that these lawsuits are pending litigation, we cannot comment further on the details of the incidents or the complaints.”

Attorneys representing the estates of Rodriguez and Schumann did not respond to email requests for comment.

Schumann died following a crash on Aug. 7, 2020, when she was a passenger in a vehicle driven by Tristan Goodwin and headed west on Southeast Mildred Lane in Salem.

Goodwin was driving “at a high rate of speed” when his vehicle entered into the path of another vehicle, which was heading south on South Liberty Road. That vehicle struck Goodwin’s vehicle on the passenger side, according to the complaint. His vehicle rolled, traveled across Liberty Road and into the property of a home on the southwest corner of the intersection. 

The intersection is a T intersection where Mildred Lane terminates.

“Goodwin failed to slow, stop, or maneuver away from the other vehicle as he approached the intersection and when he crossed into the path of the southbound vehicle because he did not receive adequate warnings via traffic control devices … and was unable to see the approaching vehicle,” according to the complaint.

The complaint said if the city had enforced its rules by having property owners maintain their vegetation near the road and “followed through with their duties to cut down vegetation along the roadways,” Goodwin and the other driver would not have had obstructed views.

It also said if the city had placed correct signage on the roadways — including posting the correct speed, “curve ahead” signs, a stop sign, a “crosswalk ahead” sign and lighting on both sides of Southeast Mildred Lane — Goodwin would’ve “had more warning and been able to change his behavior as he approached the intersection.”

Her estate is seeking judgments for economic damages not to exceed $800,000 and noneconomic damages not to exceed $2 million.

Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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Ardeshir Tabrizian has covered criminal justice and housing for Salem Reporter since September 2021. As an Oregon native, his award-winning watchdog journalism has traversed the state. He has done reporting for The Oregonian, Eugene Weekly and Malheur Enterprise.