NewsTeam 10 Investigates


How much do garbage truck crashes cost taxpayers in San Diego?

An audit shows 12 to 16% of city's 4,000+ vehicles were involved in a crash in each of the past five years.
garbage truck vs car in san diego
Posted at 4:03 PM, Oct 01, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-01 19:03:21-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — A man who was seriously injured when a City of San Diego garbage truck smashed into his car sued the city, winning $2.5 million in the process.

Team 10 decided to look into how often garbage trucks are involved in crashes, and how much it costs taxpayers.

Investigator Adam Racusin went to the corner of Utah Street and Myrtle Avenue in North Park. The area is filled with homes and clearly marked with bike lanes, street writing and stop signs.

It's also not far from Kekoa Young's house.

"He was at a stop sign a block from his house, waiting for a garbage truck to come by, and the garbage truck doesn't see him — is distracted —and crashes into his car," says Elliot Jung, one of Young's lawyers.

Because of the crash, Young suffered a herniated disc towards the bottom of his spine that was about 10 to 11 millimeters. Young's attorneys say the brutal injury required surgery, turning a once highly active guy into someone with limitations.

"Really what it becomes about is the city trying to escape liability. It's really what this story was about," an attorney said. "They knew that they caused something, and they did a lot of things to try and cover it up, try to avoid responsibility, and really that's what the whole trail became about."

When digging into whether this type of crash is a one-off or happens frequently, Team 10 filed a request with the city asking for data on garbage truck crashes.

The city says it does track crashes, but "the records are not maintained by specific types of vehicles." So, the city does not have a separate designation for garbage trucks versus other city vehicles.

Team 10 discovered just a few months ago that the city auditor released a scathing report looking at how much money crashes involving city vehicles cost you.

According to city data between Fiscal Year 2017 and 2021, the city paid $31.2 million in liability claim payments related to motor vehicle accidents.

An audit released earlier this year found between 12 and 16% of the city's fleet of more than 4,000 vehicles were involved in an accident in each of the past five years.

"City Management determined that the majority of the 2,853 accidents reviewed between fiscal years 2017 and 2021 could have been prevented by the city employee driver," the audit says.

Failure to drive defensively and avoid the accident was the most commonly-cited cause.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the City of San Diego said the city has taken steps to improve employees' driving using city vehicles and will continue to do so.

They pointed back to the audit and changes that have been made, including strengthening the unsafe driving discipline policy and introducing a new vehicle monitoring policy that helps with identifying unsafe driving patterns among other things.

Young's attorney says his injuries will affect him for the rest of his life.

"He has new limitations, things he used to be able to do he just can't do, but its going to always affect him. He has a substantial kink in the armor of his spine and that's never going away," Jung says.

Team 10 asked the San Diego City Attorney's Office about the crash. A spokesperson said they don't have a comment beyond what's available in the court documents ABC 10News already obtained.