William O. Douglas Courthouse courtroom

William O. Douglas Courtroom, Yakima (Library of Congress)

For the second time in two years, a lawsuit against the federal government over a fatal crash on the Yakama Nation reservation has been dismissed.

U.S. District Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson granted a motion from Jose Vera of Yakima County and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to dismiss Vera’s negligence suit against the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. The order dismissed the case with prejudice, meaning that it cannot be refiled.

Peterson initially dismissed the case in 2017, finding that the Yakama Nation was responsible for the road rather than the BIA. But the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case back to district court to allow Vera to seek additional records from the government, while noting that there was already enough evidence to justify a summary judgment on the government’s behalf.

Favian Valencia, Vera’s attorney, said he wrote a letter on behalf of his client asking the Yakama Nation Tribal Council to look into making safety improvements on the road.

“It was a known area that is very treacherous,” Valencia said.

As a sovereign nation, the Yakama Nation cannot be sued, Valencia said.

Vera’s lawsuit stems from a Jan. 27, 2014, crash on Signal Peak Road, also known as BIA Road 140. The crash happened about 26 miles west of Toppenish on a closed portion of the Yakama Nation’s reservation.

Vera’s logging truck was heading north on the road when he came to a sharp curve and did not have time to slow down, according to court documents. His truck slid down a 60-foot embankment, court documents said, killing a passenger in the truck and leaving Vera with “permanent and severe physical, cognitive, neurological, emotional and other injuries.”

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Vera alleged in his lawsuit that the BIA knew the curve was dangerous and did nothing to warn drivers, nor did it install guard railings on the embankment.

Peterson’s initial ruling found that the Yakama Nation had closed the area in the early 1990s and had complete control over the roads.

Reach Donald W. Meyers at dmeyers@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: donaldwmeyers, or https://www.facebook.com/donaldwmeyersjournalist/