Settlement in driver negligence suit reached; car fatally hit UA student at crosswalk

Andrea Torres

FAYETTEVILLE — A settlement agreement has been reached to end the driver negligence lawsuit filed after the death of University of Arkansas, Fayetteville student Andrea Torres, according to a joint motion to dismiss the case filed Wednesday.

Torres, an 18-year-old architecture student from Clarksville, died in Feb. 2019, two days after being hit by a car while walking in a campus crosswalk.

UA police cited the driver, then 17, with using a cellphone and failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk.

In response to the lawsuit, filed by a special administrator for the Torres estate, the driver, Reagan Garner, had denied using her cell phone while driving, according to court documents.

Terms of the settlement were not disclosed in the court documents filed Wednesday.

Matthew Lindsay, an attorney representing the Torres estate and family, in an email said terms of the settlement are confidential.

“The family of Andrea felt that the final settlement terms were in the best interest of their family,” Lindsay said, adding that the settlement agreement came about after the parties went through a mediation process.

“While the Torres family will never fully recover from the loss of Andrea, they are hopeful her death has shed light on the dangers of distracted driving so other families will not have to undergo such a traumatic loss,” Lindsay said.

Along with Garner, the lawsuit had named as defendants Garner’s mother, Dania Raynette Garner Austin, and father, James Hydrick Garner.

“The parties have reached a compromise, resolution and settlement of all issues between them,” states the court document filed Wednesday. “The defendants deny any fault with regard to this matter.”

A jury trial had been scheduled for next week in Washington County Circuit Court.

Separate from the civil lawsuit, no public record exists for Garner’s juvenile court hearing after the crash that a family member of Torres says took place in March 2019. Garner was not publicly identified before the civil lawsuit.

Washington County Prosecuting Attorney Matt Durrett has cited the confidentiality requirement in the state’s juvenile code in declining to comment on juvenile proceedings.

The lawsuit had alleged that Garner broke traffic laws related to cellphone use while driving, including Arkansas Code Annotated 27-51-1504, which prohibits drivers from reading or writing texts or social media posts.

The collision took place at 2:52 p.m. on Feb. 2, 2019 as Torres walked west from the Garland Avenue Center to cross North Garland Avenue, according to a police report.

Court records from the civil lawsuit include portions and excerpts from a deposition. Garner was asked whether it's true that she looked at her cellphone while driving.

Garner answered, according to an excerpt included in court documents: "Not with intentions to get on it. It was just down in my cup holder and lit up with a notification."

Asked later in the deposition if she looked at her phone "prior to this incident," Garner replied: "But not with intent to be playing on my phone, to - it was literally a split second. If I wanted to change the temperature on my dials, it would have been the exact same thing."