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Parents of Baby Win Wrongful Death Lawsuit

It’s been said that a picture speaks a thousand words. The photos posted and shared at Marcello’s memorial reflected such thoughts as Angelic, Beautiful, Too Young, A Blessing. Nearly three years after 2 month old Marcello Vasquez’s death, his parents Jimmy and Natasha, received $500,000 in a wrongful death settlement from the Los Angeles City Council. While nothing can replace the loss of a child, nor can a price be placed on the life of a child, the Vasquez family feels as if they can finally move forward after losing their infant son in a tragic accident.

It was a warm July evening in downtown Los Angeles when hundreds of people, young and old, came out to celebrate an Art Walk and indulge in local foods from food trucks. Music, laughter, and an overwhelming feeling of celebration and community togetherness filled the streets of downtown L.A. A young couple, with their 2 month old son, visited with family and showed off their new baby; a beautiful boy with slick black hair, long eye lashes, and a flawless complexion slept peacefully in the stroller despite the hustle and bustle of the crowds gathered on the sidewalks. A seemingly perfect evening turned into a parent’s worst nightmare within a matter of seconds.

A witness, at the event, said, "The nature of the evening immediately shifted from revelry to chaos."

Shortly after 9pm, Tyrell Chandler, who was driving his girlfriend’s Cadillac DeVille without a driver’s license, was attempting to parallel park on the crowded street. Instead of braking, Chandler hit the accelerator,which forced the vehicle to roll up over the curb. Chandler struck a parking meter, hit two pedestrians, and hit the stroller that Marcello Vasquez was in, knocking it to the ground. The infant was taken to the hospital and was pronounced dead, from the injuries he sustained, the following day.

Seeking Justice

The accident left the young parents with unanswered questions and limited financial funds to bury their beloved son, a child who had graced their lives for such a short time. Almost a year after the tragic accident, Chandler pleaded guilty to reckless driving causing great bodily injury and received three years probation and was ordered to pay restitution to the grieving family. While Chandler was held accountable for his careless mistakes, the city of Los Angeles and Art Walk agreed to offer the Vasquez family a settlement in honor of the infant, who would be three years old this year.

In a press release, the Art Walk Executive Director Qathryn Brehm explained, "Art Walk does not believe it was in any way responsible for the accident which was caused by a third party (Chandler), but agreed to honor this settlement in an effort to resolve the case and move forward."

To further honor the memory of Marcello Vasquez, the organizers of Art Walk have decided to provide a plaque memorializing the infant; the parents will decide where the plaque will be placed and what will be on the memorial stone. Many Art Walk patrons were emotionally moved by the tragic event, but don’t think that Art Walk was responsible for Marcello’s death.

One Art Walk supporter explained, "It’s congested, but I don’t feel like it’s unsafe…I feel bad that this happened, but I hope it doesn’t change the event."

While Art Walk is not solely responsible for Marcello’s death, they have reconsidered patron’s safety on the sidewalks. As a result, crowd sizes on the sidewalks has been decreased and monitored, as well as making sure the traffic flow on sidewalks remains fluid. Additionally, food trucks have been moved to a separate, nearby location to eliminate unnecessary crowd congestion.

Waiting for Retribution

Each year, thousands of families are affected by a wrongful death and can wait a lengthy period of time, up to years, before they receive any compensation or witness retribution against the party responsible for a loved one’s death. The Cornell University Law School defines a wrongful death simply, however, it’s usually anything but simple and is often difficult to determine how long the process will take.

A wrongful death is "caused by the wrongful act of another, either accidentally or intentionally. A claim for wrongful death is made by a family member of a deceased person to obtain compensation for having to live without that person….intended to cover the earning and the emotional comfort and support the deceased person would have provided."

Wrongful death claims can stem anywhere from medical malpractice to automobile accidents to traumatic brain injuries. The Institute of Medicine reports that an estimated 98,000 die each year due to medical errors or negligence while the Brain Injury Association of America reports that more than 50,000 people die due to a traumatic brain injury.

Thousands of people fall victim to preventable accidents and each year, mourning family and friends wait and fight to seek justice for the person they lost to a tragic accident. Like the Vasquez family, some families wait years to settle a wrongful death claim, while others are never fortunate enough to close that painful chapter and move forward.

The attorney, Jonathan Dennis, who represented the Vasquez’s claim was pleased that his clients could move forward after winning their settlement. Jimmy and Natasha Vasquez will never have the chance to watch their son, Marcello, grow up, but they will have the memories of an infant who graced their lives, albeit briefly.

"It was an unfortunate accident," says Dennis, "but the family is happy the city has resolved the case…as they can move forward."