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          Front Page




City Settles Lawsuit Over Rape by Transit Driver

By Dan McKay
Copyright 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
    A young woman raped by a city van driver will receive $24,500 a year for the rest of her life under terms of a complex settlement approved Wednesday.
    The woman, who is developmentally disabled, was raped in 2005 after the van driver dropped off other passengers and parked behind a building on the West Side, according to her lawsuit.
    The present value of the settlement is estimated at $725,000, which the city must pay to the woman and her legal guardian. Instead of receiving that amount all at once, the victim will get annual payments to a trust on her behalf.
    In October, the driver accused in the case, Joseph Lueras, pleaded guilty to rape and a related charge. He was sentenced earlier this month to five years in prison and extended probation after that.
    The federal lawsuit, meanwhile, said that even before the rape, the city had received two complaints about Lueras "behaving in sexually inappropriate ways" toward passengers. In court documents, the city acknowledged the previous complaints but said it couldn't discipline the driver because the complaints weren't in writing.
    City transit spokesman Jay Faught wouldn't speak specifically about the Lueras case. But he said complaints received by telephone are investigated.
    "The individuals that didn't follow the procedures are no longer working for ABQRide," Faught said.
    When serious allegations are made, the city can immediately put the driver on paid administrative leave, he said.
    Surveillance cameras, meanwhile, will be installed in transit vans over the next few months.
    "Passenger safety is our No. 1 priority," Faught said.
    As for Wednesday's court case, a professionally managed trust will receive the settlement money. The woman, identified only as N.A.D. in the lawsuit, will have access to the money for education, recreation and certain other purposes.
    The trust will get $24,500 a year for at least 30 years or for the rest of the woman's life if she lives longer than that. She is in her 20s now.
    The arrangement is designed to keep the woman from having her existing government medical benefits cut off.
    U.S. Magistrate Judge Richard L. Puglisi approved the settlement Wednesday morning and said attorneys involved in the case had done a good job crafting the agreement.
    "It's clearly fair and reasonable under the circumstances of the case," he said.
    Puglisi also commended the woman's attorneys, Donald Vigil and Hope Eckert, for discounting their legal fees.
    The plaintiffs in the case were the woman and her legal guardian, a parent.