ALBUQUERQUE — A judge has awarded nearly $80 million to the family of a New Mexico woman who died in 2002 when a tractor-trailer struck her car and buried it in sand, suffocating the woman as teachers and students at a nearby school frantically tried to dig her out.
Laura Miera of Albuquerque had just dropped off her 14-year-old daughter at Jimmy Carter Middle School and was waiting at a traffic light when the truck came barreling down the road.
The Albuquerque Redi-Mix truck pushed her car to the curb, and Miera was trapped as the semi's open load of sand poured down on her.
Counselors, teachers, and students on their way to the school tried to dig out the 48-year-old woman by hand. One counselor held Miera's hand as the car filled with sand.
''The school counselor was holding her hand, praying while the sand just rose above her head, and the counselor just kept saying, 'Squeeze my hand if you can hear me,' '' said Jacob Vigil, the attorney who has represented the family in their 10-year legal fight. ''She squeezed for a while until she died.''
Heavy equipment was used to lift the tractor-trailer, but an hour after the crash, Miera was pronounced dead.
According to the lawsuit, the semi involved in the crash had an expired registration, three brakes out of adjustment, and a driver with two DWI charges before he was hired by Albuquerque Redi-Mix.