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‘A horrible loss:’ Wrongful death trial nears end in Las Vegas

A pink pair of Minnie Mouse ears sat on a table in a Las Vegas courtroom Friday, and a picture of the girl who wore them flashed on the screen.

“The cover-up of Republic Services started immediately,” Sean Claggett told jurors in his closing argument. “They were going to blame a dead 11-year-old girl from day one.”

A wrongful death trial that centered on Jazmin Espana, who was struck and killed by a Republic Services garbage truck in 2017, came to a close Friday after about two weeks.

And Claggett asked jurors to award Jazmin’s mother at least $65 million in damages.

Republic Services put profit over safety, he argued. The company immediately hired an attorney and did not take written statements from employees after the fatality.

Even before the death, the company negligently kept a driver on its staff with a checkered history of disregarding safety on the road, Claggett said.

Julio Cortez-Solano, who barely speaks English, testified that he was only sometimes provided a translator during training. He was written up multiple times in the years leading up to Jazmin’s death. He was fired and rehired.

“It wasn’t a matter of if; it was a matter of when,” Claggett said of the collision. “Unfortunately, Jazmin had to pay with her life.”

Republic Services attorney David Barron argued that the company was proactive in its training and had earned merits for it. It conducted a thorough investigation, he said.

“This is a horrible loss, but there is no basis for punishment in this case,” he said.

Metropolitan Police Department Detective Paul Solomon testified in the trial that the driver was already in the crosswalk when Jazmin walked into the street.

Barron denied that his clients were liable but told the jury that if they were found negligent, $10.25 million, plus funeral expenses, would suffice.

He argued that, although it’s difficult to ask whether Jazmin was negligent, it’s an important question.

“She knew how to cross the street. She knew the route. This was something she did on a daily basis,” he said. “There’s nothing reasonable about somebody walking in the crosswalk that’s already occupied by a large commercial vehicle.”

During the trial, Jazmin’s mother, Encarnacion Espana, described her youngest daughter as an intelligent girl who aspired to be a teacher. She read her mother a book every night.

“I used to ask her how much do you love me, and she used to raise her hands to the sky,” Espana testified through a Spanish interpreter. “She said, ‘I am going to be my whole life with you.’ ”

But her life ended after school on Feb. 8, 2017, when Jazmin and her friend Samantha Lopez walked to the intersection of South Sandhill and East Viking roads. The garbage truck pulled up next to them. Cortez-Solano, and his co-worker and passenger, Darryl Bryant, smiled at the girls. The girls looked at each other and laughed, Samantha testified.

The traffic light turned green, and the walk signal indicated that the girls could cross the street. Samantha turned around to look at the traffic behind her, and Jazmin started to cross without her.

“At first she said, ‘Are you going to come with me?’ And I wasn’t,” Samantha testified in the trial. “After, I just heard her gasp.”

The truck had turned right, hitting Jazmin and knocking her to the ground. Video surveillance shows that it never fully stopped.

At times during the trial, Cortez-Solano appeared emotional on the stand. Through a Spanish translator, he apologized.

“My life has never been the same, and it never will be,” he said.

“You guessed that they weren’t going to move. And you guessed wrong,” Claggett told Cortez-Solano last week. “Because the girl walked because she had a walk signal.”

“I was so sure they were standing there,” Cortez-Solano answered.

Jazmin’s mom, Espana, testified that after her daughter’s death, she stopped walking to work.

“They told me the girl lost her life. They pulled my heart out of me with that,” Espana said. “The only thing I have now are our memories to keep going.”

The jury will begin deliberations Monday. District Judge Jacqueline Bluth is presiding over the trial.

Contact Briana Erickson at berickson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5244. Follow @ByBrianaE on Twitter.

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