Lawsuit filed against county over fatal 2011 crash in Marysville

MARYSVILLE — A teen severely injured in a 2011 car crash that killed a fellow Marysville Getchell High School student has filed a lawsuit against Snohomish County over road conditions.

Lars Kundu was one of two teenage passengers in the car driven by Juan Mendoza, the 16-year-old who died. The lawsuit filed Oct. 20 in King County Superior Court also names the dead boy’s parents as defendants.

Kundu, who turned 18 this year, filed the lawsuit with his parents, Nola and Michael Kundu of Lake Stevens.

“Our client has permanent injuries to his brain that will affect him for the rest of his life,” said Ann Deutscher, one of Kundu’s attorneys. “He will, in one way or another, be dependent on his parents of the rest of his life.”

The crash occurred on the afternoon of Oct. 24, 2011, as Juan was driving west — downhill— on 108th Street NE from 83rd Avenue NE. Because of the road’s steep slope, some locals have dubbed it “roller-coaster hill,” attorneys said.

The three boys had left school before cross-country practice, planning to return. Kundu was a front-seat passenger, and another boy rode in the backseat.

Snohomish County Sheriff’s investigators later estimated the 1997 Honda Civic was traveling well over the posted 35 mph speed limit, perhaps around 70 mph.

Mendoza had obtained his driver’s license four months earlier. Under state law, the intermediate credential prohibited him from carrying passengers younger than 20 who were not family members.

The road surface was wet at the time of the crash. A witness told detectives the Civic went airborne for more than 30 feet after it crested a hump at the top of the hill.

The car lost control, slid down an embankment and hit trees on the side of the road, deputies said. Both surviving passengers were airlifted to Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center.

The families of Kundu and the other boy later filed a $50 million damage claim against Snohomish County, but the other teen’s family soon withdrew.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys pressed the county to have the Washington State Patrol perform the investigation, to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest. The county declined and had the Sheriff’s Office investigate, following normal procedure.

Lars Kundu now attends community college, but the accident has derailed a once-bright academic future, his attorneys said.

“If you saw Lars walking on the street, you’d think he’s a normal kid,” Deutscher said. “You want to interact with him like a normal kid. But he’s not.”

The lawsuit faults Snohomish County for poor design and maintenance of the portion of 108th Street NE where the crash occurred. They contend that at the time of the accident, there were inadequate signs warning motorists of the steep grade and poor sight lines.

County attorneys are reviewing the allegations.

“We’ll evaluate the complaint and prepare to defend the county,” said Jason Cummings, the county’s chief civil attorney. “It’s an unfortunate circumstance where the driver died, and our thoughts are with the family.”

The county public works department in 2012 spent about $1 million to improve an 800-foot section of the road that includes the crash site. County officials have said the improvements were related to the approval of a 10-house development at the top of the hill, not a direct response to the accident.

Deutscher and her law partner, Jim Dore, find that hard to believe.

“They engineered a fix to what should have already been fixed,” Dore said. “It clearly shows there was an issue.”

Kundu’s Kent-based legal team maintains they aren’t seeking damages from the Mendozas and have named them only as a legal technicality. The Mendozas’ attorney said the same thing.

“We’re not in an adversarial relationship with Kundu’s family,” said attorney Elizabeth Hanley of Seattle. “Everybody is sympathetic to each other’s losses and damages.”

Juan Mendoza’s death was mourned widely at Marysville Getchell, where he was a strong student and soccer standout. His relatives continue to grieve.

“He brought a lot of strength to their family,” Hanley said.

Survivors include his parents, a younger sister and an older brother. The brother, in particular, counted on Juan to help cope with a serious long-term illness that has left him with seizures and trouble balancing, Hanley said.

Parents Rafael and Maria Carmen Mendoza, who still live in Marysville, have filed three damage claims against the county asking for $50 million, the same amount that Kundu’s attorneys had requested. One claim corresponds to their dead son’s estate and the others to each parent. They’ve filed three claims for the same amount against the Marysville School District, alleging that the district had a legal duty to protect children participating in after-school sports.

The Kundus recently filed damage claims against the school district, but haven’t named it in the lawsuit.

Lars Kundu’s father is a former Marysville School Board member who resigned amid controversy in 2010.

Damage claims are a requirement before suing a public agency in Washington.

The attorneys are adamant that the road, not just negligent driving, contributed to the injuries and death.

“The easiest thing to do is to blame it on a 16-year-old boy entirely,” Hanley said. “It’s easier for Snohomish County to do that than to look at its own part of what happened.”

The county and the school district have 60 days from the filing date to respond to the damage claims. No court date has been set in the lawsuit.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; Twitter: @NWhaglund.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

A big decision for Boeing’s next CEO: Is it time for a new plane?

As Boeing faces increased competition from Airbus, the company is expected to appoint a new CEO by the end of the year.

A Mukilteo Speedway sign hangs at an intersection along the road in Mukilteo. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Mukilteo Speedway name change is off to a bumpy start

The city’s initial crack at renaming the main drag got over 1,500 responses. Most want to keep the name.

Two workers walk past a train following a press event at the Lynnwood City Center Link Station on Friday, June 7, 2024, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Trains up and running on Lynnwood Link — but no passengers quite yet

Officials held an event at the Lynnwood station announcing the start of “pre-revenue” service. Passengers still have to wait till August.

Nedra Vranish, left, and Karen Thordarson, right browse colorful glass flowers at Fuse4U during Sorticulture on Friday, June 7, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
A promenade through Everett’s popular Sorticulture garden festival

Check out a gallery of the festival’s first day.

Left to right, Everett Pride board members Ashley Turner, Bryce Laake, and Kevin Daniels pose for a photo at South Fork Bakery in Everett, Washington on Sunday, May 26, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Second Everett Pride aims for even bigger rainbow of festivities

Organizers estimated about 3,000 people attended the first block party in Everett. This year, they’re aiming for 10,000.

HRT Rescue Technician Andy Toyota gives the thumbs-up to crew members in the Snohomish County Volunteer Search and Rescue helicopter shortly before takeoff during an interagency training session held by Northwest Regional Aviation on Thursday, June 13, 2024, at the Arlington Airport in Arlington, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
From around state, authorities simulate ‘terrorist attack’ in Arlington

Teams from King County, Snohomish County and elsewhere converged for a multi-faceted scenario Thursday at the Arlington Municipal Airport.

Two couples walk along Hewitt Avenue around lunchtime on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett businesses say it’s time the city had its own Chamber of Commerce

The state’s seventh-largest city hasn’t had a chamber since 2011. After 13 years, businesses are rallying for its return.

The I-5, Highway 529 and the BNSF railroad bridges cross over Union Slough as the main roadways for north and southbound traffic between Everett and Marysville. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Highway 529 squeeze starts now between Everett, Marysville

Following a full closure for a night, starting late Sunday, Highway 529 will slim down to two lanes for months near the Snohomish River Bridge.

5 Snohomish County sisters accused of $1M fraud scheme

For two years, the women used online return postage to get gift cards, then returning the physical items to a brick-and-mortar store, charges say.

FILE — Michael Whitaker, Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, testifies before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Feb. 6, 2024. Whitaker told a Senate panel, on Thursday, June 13, 2024, that changes are being made to the agency’s oversight of Boeing, including conducting more safety inspections. (Anna Rose Layden/The New York Times)
Boeing discloses new quality problem on 787 Dreamliner jets

The issue affects jets built in South Carolina that have yet to be delivered, the company said in a statement.

Alvin Cooper (Photo provided by Marysville School District)
After allegations, Marysville schools’ HR director resigns

Last week, the district’s finance director Lisa Gonzales publicly called for the school board to put Alvin Cooper on leave, citing mismanagement.

Leslie Davis, left, and Lyndsay Lamb, twin sister stars of HGTV's "Unsellable Houses" and 2004 Snohomish High School graduates, donated a private design session to the school's auction fundraiser for their 20-year reunion. (Photo provided)
Got $2,000? Bid on face time with HGTV’s ‘Unsellable Houses’ twins

The sisters are offering up themselves in a fundraiser for their Class of 2004 Snohomish High 20-year reunion.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.