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State of California pays parents $1 million over death of daughter

April 9, 2001 Press Releases

CONTACT: Sydnie Moore (619) 283-8896 or
Robert J. Francavilla (619) 238-1811


SAN DIEGO, Calif. – – The State of California has agreed to pay a former San Diego couple $1 million as a result of the death of their teenage daughter, who was killed when a car in which she was a passenger crashed into a tree just off the edge of State Route 163 in Balboa Park.

Robert J. Francavilla, an attorney with Casey Gerry Reed & Schenk, represented Mark and Beverly Lenci — former Point Loma residents who have since moved to Boston — in the case against the State of California, Department of Transportation.

The Lenci’s daughter, Rebecca, 16, was killed on June 10, 1999 when the car her friend was driving veered off the 163 freeway into the center median and crashed into one of many large trees located just off the edge of the roadway.

“This was a tragedy that absolutely did not have to happen and that the State could have prevented,” said Francavilla. “The State of California has known for 25 years that these trees in the median of the highway are a safety hazard to motorists — there have been in excess of 400 known accidents in the southbound lanes to prove it.”

At the time of the incident, Rebecca’s friend Elsi Roman-Nichols was driving under the 65 miles per hour speed limit on her way to pick up a friend on graduation night, when her vehicle left the highway, entered the grass center median and careened into a tree just off the edge of the highway, Francavilla said.

“Because the trees are so close to the edge of the roadway, from the time her car left the highway, she had no time, no room and no chance to recover,” he said.

According to Francavilla, Caltrans has failed to build median barriers for this area because it did not want to disrupt the “park-like” aesthetics of the freeway. However, as far back as 1971, the state’s own standards required guardrails or crash protection at all fixed objects, including trees accessible to traffic and within close proximity to the traveled way.

“A State report in 1976 addressing Route 163 in Balboa Park proposed a reduction of the then 55-mph speed limit to account for this problem,” he said. “But the proposal was not carried out and instead the speed limit was later raised to 65-mph.”

In 1986, a State of California report on the area concluded that median barriers to prevent contact with the trees were justified, yet none were added. In 1988 the State conducted its own report and even concluded that the tree problem was placing it in a “bad liability” situation. To date, no median barriers have been erected, nor have any safety measured been implemented to address the issue — despite the fact a 1990 guardrail project was proposed for the area, Francavilla said.

“Caltrans has long been aware of the dangerous condition of this roadway and the fact that it has failed to comply with even a basic, common sense approach to safety,” he added.

“The settlement honors the memory of the Lenci’s daughter, Rebecca. An outstanding student, loving daughter, sister and friend, she was a wonderful girl with a limitless future.”

According to Francavilla, the Lenci’s will use the funds to continue the support of the Rebecca Christine Lenci Thespian Memorial Scholarship Fund at Point Loma High School.

“The Lenci family is hopeful the resolution of this matter will bring about safety measures to minimize the risk of this tragedy happening again,” he said.