Local News

Jul 22, 2014 11:05 AM by Andrew Ellison - aellison@kristv.com

6 Investigates: The Cost of City Worker Wrecks

CORPUS CHRISTI - Pedro Valdez was in car accident a year and a half ago. Here's what happened. A city worker driving a service truck blew a red light and smashed into the side of his vehicle.

Valdez was driving along the access of I-37 near Navigation.

"I think he (city worker) was just being a little careless, probably talking on his phone or something. That's what it looked like," Valdez says.

The impact injured Valdez's arm and his truck was totaled.

Naturally, you feel bad for him, but you should feel bad for your wallet too. That accident cost taxpayers $12,881.

That's how much it cost to pay Valdez's medical bills, compensate him for his totaled vehicle, and fix the city truck.

What's important to understand here is that when it comes to auto accidents, the city is self insured. That means there's no outside insurance agency paying these claims. The money comes directly from the city, directly from your pockets.

Here's another example.

In 2012, a woman with two passengers in her car collided with a police officer. She was crossing Weber at Gollihar, and the cop had a red light.

According to the accident report, the officer turned his emergency overhead lights on and went into the intersection.

Witnesses say he never turned on his audible siren.

The woman didn't see him and crashed into him. The accident report also says the officer "had not been dispatched on an emergency call".

The police officer was found at fault.

After vehicle repairs, and medical bill compensation, the price tag for taxpayers was $322,696.

In fact, over the last four and a half years, there have been 242 accidents where the city was at fault, where taxpayers had to foot the bill.

Those accidents cost the city $1.18 million to settle.

Donna James heads up the city's Risk Management Department, and says not so fast.

True, that's a lot of money, but it was actually a lot worse five years ago.

James says the city has decreased the number of accidents it was at fault for by 70 percent over the last five years.

"And we basically attribute that to a lot of our programs that we've implemented," she says.

Drivers are required to take a defensive driving course every three years, and the city used to struggle with getting the training done on time.

Now, with more trainers, they're on schedule.

And there's a new program created by TxDot and the National Safety Council that the city is rolling out. It's called O.D.C or "Our Defensive Driving Concern". The program targets distracted driving.

If a worker does cause an accident, the city sends that worker a letter telling he or she how much money that accident cost the city, cost you at home.

"I think that city drivers need to be very very conscientious and very very aware that not only is this taxpayer dollars, but they are driving city property," James says.

A diplomatic way to say what Valdez puts more simply.

"You're paying taxes and then something like this happens, I mean you feel your money come out of your pocket," he says.

If you ever do get hit by a city vehicle, keep in mind that the city cannot be held liable for more than $500,000.

And if a city worker ever gets in a wreck using their own personal vehicle, but on city time, that worker has to pay for their own vehicle damage, not taxpayers.

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