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Driver sues state, others in fatal crash
November 12, 2012, 05:00 AM By Michelle Durand Daily Journal Staff
A man injured after a vehicle plowed into his car on Highway 101, killing a passenger and injuring several others, is suing that motorist, the state and another driver whose blown tire allegedly began the fatal string of circumstances.

Billy Heard, of Los Angeles, filed the complaint in San Mateo County Superior Court Nov. 8 alleging negligence and keeping dangerous condition of public property. The suit names Dennis Leffew Jr., the driver who hit Heard’s vehicle, the state Department of Transportation and driver Leonardo Lazo and Mauricio Centeno, who owned the Chevrolet Tahoe which lost the tire.

The suit comes a year after the Nov. 6, 2011 collision that killed 19-year-old Andrel Norcel Gaines and left Leffew with head injuries. Leffew was ultimately sentenced to time served for misdemeanor driving under the influence. Prosecutors originally charged Leffew with gross vehicular manslaughter but settled the case after an accident reconstruction specialist hired by his defense found that even a sober driver could not have avoided the accident.

Heard was driving a 2003 Cadillac south on Highway 101 near Millbrae Avenue with four friends including Gaines as they headed home from a night in San Francisco. The Tahoe driven by Lazo lost a tire which stopped in one southbound lane and Heard swerved to miss it, colliding with the center divider and stopping in the middle lane.

Minutes later, prosecutors said Leffew crashed his Nissan 300ZX into the car, pushing it down the highway for a distance. The Cadillac’s passengers received various injuries but Gaines suffered a  traumatic head injury and remained on life support until Nov. 18 when he was removed.

While Leffew was hospitalized with his own injuries, a blood sample placed his blood alcohol level at .12 percent. He was charged with Gaines’ death the following March.

Heard’s accident prior to being hit by Leffew complicated the case which led prosecutors to take several months before filing charges and ultimately resulted in the lesser plea deal.

As a result of the crash, Heard suffered severe brain damage and bleeding and facial, pelvic and wrist fractures, according to the compensation claim denied by the state in June. In the document, Heard states his current medical costs are more than $270,00 and project to pass more than a half-million dollars.

According to the claim and subsequent lawsuit, Heard holds Caltrans and the state of California liable for insufficiently lighting and maintaining the highway near the Millbrae Avenue off-ramp. The California Highway Patrol failed to respond and remove the tire in a timely manner, thereby creating the dangerous condition of public property that led to Heard’s crash into the retaining wall and subsequent hit by Leffew, the claim states.

A case management conference in the civil suit is set for April.


Michelle Durand can be reached by email: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.

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