Suit For 2017 Prison Bus Accident Won’t Be Ready For Trial Until Late 2021

Two state prisoners who contend they were injured when another vehicle read-ended an Arizona Department of Corrections (DOC) transport bus in 2017 are getting closer to having their claims heard by a jury, but not until October at the earliest, according to court documents.

Jace R. Teague and Daryl Bellottie claim to have sustained “serious physical and emotional injury” from the Dec. 12, 2017 accident on State Route 80 in Tombstone. Their cases were consolidated into one action last year by Cochise County’s presiding judge to “avoid unnecessary costs and delay and prevent duplication of evidence.”

Several court-ordered deadlines intended to keep the case on track for a summer 2021 trial were recently pushed back by Judge Jason Lindstrom after the parties advised they could not be ready for trial until mid-October. Lindstrom will conduct a hearing on June 1 to set a date for the jury trial, which is expected to last four days.

Teague and Bellottie were among 17 inmates being moved from the Arizona State Prison Complex in Douglas to a Tucson facility when the bus was involved in an accident. They and two other inmates were taken to Canyon Vista Medical Center for evaluation before being returned to prison later the same day.

The bus was exempt under federal law from the required use of lap or shoulder belts, according to court filings.

Records show the bus was traveling in a 45-mph zone when its driver, William Keith took evasive action to avoid a passenger car that suddenly stopped in front of the bus. Keith narrowly missed hitting the car driven by Anna Hansen, but a passenger vehicle driven by Cynthia R. Elias wasn’t able to stop quickly enough behind the bus.

Hansen and Elias were cited for traffic violations. The defendants in the lawsuits are DOC and its Director David Shinn, the three drivers, and Joaquin Escalante who owned the car driven by Elias.