A $5-million settlement of damage claims has been reached in a Starline Sightseeing Tours bus crash that killed 21 elderly Santa Monica residents and injured 22 others north of Bridgeport in Mono County a year ago this month.
The settlement, announced by Industrial Indemnity Co. of San Francisco, was approved after a "good-faith" hearing Friday in Santa Monica Superior Court. Similar hearings to determine the fairness of the proposed agreement were held earlier in Los Angeles and Bridgeport.
Under terms of the settlement, payments of 40 claims filed by victims injured in the accident and relatives of those killed will range from $30,000 to almost $500,000, according to Jack Powell, vice president of Industrial Indemnity.
The agreement ended Starline's liability for the accident and stipulated that the claimants cannot take civil action against the tour company or the driver involved in the accident.
At Santa Monica Christian Towers, where most of the victims lived, Cyril Gail said those who filed claims seemed "pretty well pleased." He said, "On the whole, I didn't hear any bad remarks."
Residents of the apartment complex were returning home from a trip to Reno last May 30 when the tour bus careened off U.S. 395, about 20 miles north of Bridgeport, and plunged into the icy Walker River.
The driver, Ernst August Klimeck, 47, of North Hollywood, was subsequently named in a 45-count criminal complaint, including 21 counts each of felony and misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter.
Klimeck faces arraignment on the charges Monday in Mono County Superior Court.
However, a tentative plea agreement reportedly reached by Klimeck's lawyer, Robert Courtney of Redondo Beach, and Mono County Deputy Dist. Atty. George Booth may preclude a full-scale trial.
In announcing the $5-million claim settlement, Powell said that determining an equitable distribution of the money was a "tough job" because total damages claimed "obviously" exceeded $5 million.
But, he said, $5 million is the maximum amount of insurance coverage that a passenger bus can get from the state's assigned risk pool program.