Attorney adds bus coordinator, casino to fatal rollover lawsuit

McALLEN — Five survivors of the fatal bus rollover May 14 are expanding their lawsuit to include the Eagle Pass casino and the bus coordinator.

The original lawsuit included only two survivors and named OGA Charters, of San Juan, as the sole defendant. An amended petition filed Saturday adds three plaintiffs and includes Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino; Porfirio Aguirre, the bus driver; and Elvia Estrada, a contracted bus coordinator for the casino.

The lawsuit, filed by attorney John Franz, claims the bus company and the casino are vicariously liable in the crash of a charter bus that killed nine people and injured 43.

The bus, owned by OGA Charters, originated in the Rio Grande Valley and was destined for the Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino and Hotel.

According to the lawsuit, Estrada was contracted by Kickapoo casino to bring busloads of customers for a minimum of 12 hours. It estimates each busload represented between $15,000 and $30,000 in revenue for the casino.

“The casino is liable for the negligence of its Bus Coordinator, Estrada in failing to train Estrada to direct bus drivers under her control as a Casino Bus Coordinator not to travel at unsafe rates of speed, especially during wet and rainy roadway conditions,” reads Franz’s amended petition.

“The Lucky Eagle Casino is also vicariously liable for the negligence of OGA and its driver, Aguirre Vasquez, and is subject to the same high degree of care.”

The morning of the crash, the lawsuit states two bus riders, Carlota Salinas and Manuel Salinas, boarded the bus at 5:30 a.m. at a Walmart in Brownsville. Plaintiffs Mario Alberto Zuniga, Lizbeth Nicole Rangel and Thelma Hernandez boarded at 7:20 a.m. at an H-E-B in Palmview. Each had paid $40 with a promise of a $25 credit at the casino. They were also encouraged to bring a minimum of $300 to spend each trip, the lawsuit states.

“Estrada, OGA and Aguirre Vasquez were all on a mission for the benefit of the Lucky Eagle Casino,” the lawsuit reads.

A separate lawsuit filed by McAllen attorney Jeffrey Stern sought a temporary restraining order preventing the company from destroying or altering any evidence from the crash, such as the onboard black box recorder, all paper records, emails and documents containing employee personnel files, in fear they may be altered or destroyed. The temporary restraining order was signed in the 332nd District Court and a hearing has been set for May 31.

Stern is representing five of the rollover survivors as well as the family of Francisca Guerrero, who died in the crash.

The National Transportation Safety Board is leading the investigation into the factors that led to the crash and how the bus company and its vehicles operate, according to spokesman Keith Holloway. NTSB will also investigate the bus’s black box to determine if it contains data that can provide details on what happened, but the investigation could take up to 14 months to complete, Holloway said.

Earlier this month, Frank Branson, a Dallas attorney who specializes in high-stakes personal injury cases, won an $11 million lawsuit against the Choctaw Nation after a 2013 one-vehicle charter bus crash near Irving.

Branson represented several bus passengers that were on their way to the Choctaw tribe’s casino in Oklahoma, including one of the three victims who died as a result of the crash that also injured more than a dozen people.

“Evidence showed how casinos rely on these buses to bring in business, and the Choctaw Nation was aggressive in its contract negotiations to get the very cheapest price from these bus companies while having little vigilance for safety,” Branson said. “Trial testimony revealed that a charter bus carrying 50 passengers was guaranteed to generate $15k to $50k for the casino.”