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Civil Lawsuits Filed Against Rausch in Fatal Accident

Legal: Families of two victims seek unspecified damages in action accusing the Newport Harbor High student of reckless negligence in accident.


The families of Amanda Arthur and Danny Townsend, who were seriously injured in a well-publicized car accident last year, filed civil lawsuits Friday against the driver, Jason Rausch, alleging that he was recklessly negligent at the time.

The lawsuits filed in Orange County Superior Court also name the city of Newport Beach, alleging that officials allowed unsafe conditions on Irvine Avenue. They seek unspecified damages from the 1997 crash, which left both Arthur and Townsend with "serious and permanent mental and physical disabilities."

Another passenger, Donny Bridgman, 18, died in the crash.

Rausch had been behind the wheel of the Chevrolet Blazer when it sped out of control and overturned on a sharp curve. On Thursday, Orange County Superior Court Judge Everett W. Dickey sentenced Rausch, a 19-year-old Newport Harbor High School graduate, to three years' probation. The judge also ordered him to pay a $1,000 fine and other victim restitution costs and perform 250 hours of community service.

Arthur, 18, was left in a coma but awoke 11 weeks later. On the same day the lawsuits were filed, Rausch's mother, Leslie Backstrom, assisted Arthur on her return to Newport Harbor High, where she planned to enroll as a special education student to spend at least part of her senior year on campus.

Townsend, 18, is still recovering from a brain injury that has affected his motor skills and left him unable to drive.

The case divided the Newport Beach community and caused bitter fights among longtime friends. Rausch, who was the designated driver that night, had not been drinking but there has been contentious debate over his culpability.

Other allegations in the civil lawsuits, that sprinklers had wet the road, that it was improperly designed and that the Bridgmans' van was improperly jacked up, already have been refuted in the criminal trial, said Jennifer Keller, Rausch's defense attorney.

"I think it's ironic, but of course I expected it," she said of the suits.

Meanwhile, Rausch's friends and supporters have created a defense fund to help pay the legal bills from his criminal trial, including about $10,000 on expert witnesses alone.

Contributions to the Jason Rausch Defense Fund can be made in care of Jennifer Keller, 19100 Von Karman Ave., Suite 950, Irvine, CA 92612.

Times correspondent Steve Carney contributed to this report.

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