The owner of an East Palo Alto day care center who lost her home and livelihood after a plane slammed into her house in February 2010 has reached a settlement with Tesla Motors and the deceased pilot's estate, according to papers filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court.
The agreement came on July 3, five days before a scheduled jury trial, according to court documents. Homeowner Lisa Jones and six plaintiffs who lived or worked in the house sought unspecified damages in the long-running lawsuit, which was filed Nov. 22, 2010.
Reached on Tuesday, Jones declined to comment on whether the settlement would be enough to rebuild her home and restart her business, Eppie's Day Care. Sources close to the family characterized the settlement as disappointing. Jones said only that she will rebuild her home on Beech Street.
Tesla and attorneys for both sides did not return calls requesting comment.
On the morning of Feb. 17, 2010, pilot Douglas Bourn's twin-engine Cessna 310R plummeted from the sky and struck the roof of Jones' house. Jones' two daughters were asleep in their bedrooms. She was in the shower, she said.
Within seconds, her family and day care workers were running for their lives.
"The flames were in our faces," she later recalled.
Fortunately, children had not yet arrived for day care.
Minutes before, Bourn had taken off in dense morning fog from Palo Alto Municipal Airport, headed to Hawthorne, Calif. for a business trip. The plane struck a high-voltage utility tower and smashed into the nearby Beech Street neighborhood, killing Bourn and two passengers, Brian Finn, 42, and Andrew Ingram, 31, all Tesla Motors employees.
Jones' home was the first in the path of destruction. The plane's wing struck the roof and sheared off, bursting into flames. Then the landing gear and other parts fell on two other homes. The fuselage skidded down the street and exploded in a fireball. In all, five homes were damaged along with several vehicles. Miraculously, fire officials said at the time, no one on the ground was injured.
But long after the scorch marks were erased by time and rain, the ordeal for Jones has continued.
Nearly every day for the past 3.5 years, Jones has kept watch at her condemned, boarded-up Beech Street house, often sitting in her parked car to keep an eye on things.
"I don't want to lose all sense of my community. It's still my block. I just wanted to have a sense of belonging," she said one year after the crash.
Jones grew up in East Palo Alto and has close ties to the community. She has lived in the city since 1966 and attended nearby schools, including Brentwood Elementary, she said. At 14, she started her first job in the city, and then she operated Eppie's Day Care for 17 years.
Beech Street residents said Jones is still a part of their close-knit neighborhood. Some kind souls have tended her roses and mowed her lawn to help keep the place up. But Jones' home is a constant reminder of the tragedy, they said. Torn black plastic covers a hole in the roof, and the city's weathered condemnation notice is peeling near the door.
"I'm not giving up. I want to get back to my home," Jones said.
Jones' lawsuit is the fourth of five related to the crash to have settled. Other victims also sued Tesla, Bourn's estate and his company, Air Unique: Finn's ex-wife and young daughter, Ingram's parents, and a pair of Beech Street residents. Those three lawsuits settled late in 2012.
Attorneys for those cases have not commented on the outcomes.
Only one lawsuit remains unresolved: Jose Cortez-Herrera, whose home and belongings were damaged by smoke, has a case scheduled for jury trial in early December, according to court papers.
Lawsuits settled for East Palo Alto plane crash (Oct. 26, 2012)
Dark day for two cities (Feb. 19, 2010)
'There was fire everywhere,' crash witness reports (Feb. 17, 2010)