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Nearly $80 million judgment awarded in New Mexico woman's sand suffocation death

SandDeath.jpg

Laura Miera is seen with her daughter Cassandra. In 2002, a tractor-trailer overturned, burying Laura Miera's car in sand and suffocating her inside, in Albuquerque, N.M.AP/Courtesy Vigil Law Firm

A judge has awarded nearly $80 million to the family of a woman who died in 2002 when a tractor-trailer struck her car and buried it in sand, suffocating the woman as teachers and students at a nearby school frantically tried to dig her out.

Laura Miera had just dropped off her 14-year-old daughter at Jimmy Carter Middle School and was waiting at a traffic light when the semi exited a freeway and came barreling toward her.

The Albuquerque Redi-Mix truck pushed her car to the curb, it rolled, and Miera was trapped as the semi's open load of sand poured on top of her.

Teachers, students and others on their way to the school tried to dig out the 48-year-old woman by hand.

One counselor tried to comfort Miera as the car filled with sand.

"It was devastating," said Jacob Vigil, the attorney who has represented Miera's family in their 10-year legal fight. "The school counselor was holding her hand, praying while the sand just rose above her head, and the counselor just kept saying `Squeeze my hand if you can hear me.' She squeezed for a while until she died."

According to the lawsuit, the semi involved in the crash had an expired registration, three brakes out of adjustment, and a driver with two "driving while intoxicated" charges before he was hired by Albuquerque Redi-Mix.

New Mexico District Judge Shannon Bacon entered the judgment Monday for Laura Miera's estate and her husband, Jose, and now-grown daughter, Cassandra. It includes $60 million in punitive damages.

The judgment is against Albuquerque Redi-Mix; Quintana Enterprises Inc.; the companies' owners, John and Barbara Quintana; truck driver Truman Bahe.

In her order, the judge wrote that the Quintanas' conduct and that of their companies continues to endanger the public and caused Miera's "slow and painful death."

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