Yolanda Avila sues the city while running for City Council 

click to enlarge The sidewalk utility vault into which Avila fell. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • The sidewalk utility vault into which Avila fell.

Yolanda Avila sued the city last year seeking damages for injuries she received when she fell into an uncovered 4-foot-deep utility vault beneath a city sidewalk.

Avila also is seeking a seat on the Colorado Springs City Council in the April 4 city election.

The former public defender says she'll distance herself from any Council discussion of the case, should she be elected, but acknowledges the incident has influenced how she would approach her job as a councilor.

"If there's a need for me to recuse myself, then I'll do so," says Avila, who is seeking to represent southeast District 4, adding, "It underscores how our sidewalks are not walkable."

Avila, 61, who's legally blind due to an inherited condition that causes degeneration of the retina, was seriously injured on Nov. 24, 2014 — shortly before she announced an ultimately unsuccessful 2015 run for an at-large City Council seat — when she was walking on the southeast corner of Pikes Peak Avenue and Chelton Road and fell.

She has filed suit against the city and Qwest Corp., which was granted an easement by the city to use the vault for its wiring. The lawsuit says the opening was not marked; nor did the city or Qwest have an adequate maintenance program to assure there was no danger to the walking public.

"I just was walking casually, and I walk that neighborhood all the time," says Avila, who uses a guide dog. "I know where the danger spots are. I walked into it. Three men pulled me out of the hole."

An ambulance took her to a hospital where her treatment for three bone fractures began — ultimately costing $69,974 and involving at least two surgeries. She has a permanent impairment of her ankle that still gives her pain, she says.

Avila says a Marine recruiter, who saw the mishap and helped rescue her, later saw a city utility vehicle pull up and cap the hole.

Attempts by Qwest and the city to have the lawsuit tossed out have failed, and the case is set for trial on Oct. 17.

Avila says many areas of town pose a danger. "On Airport Road, it is a death trap," she says. "There are wheelchairs that cannot go through on the sidewalk, so they go on Airport Road. It underscores how unsafe areas of town are. It actually is part of my platform in having safe and walkable sidewalks, safe roads, safe bridges."

Because of her personal experience, Avila says that she "would be more apt to be accountable and responsible."

Asked if the incident would make her, if elected a councilwoman, more sympathetic to litigants who sue the city, she says, "I will be accountable and responsible to the residents, to all the citizens. That's who we're working for."

The city and Qwest declined to comment. Both argue in court documents they're not responsible. The city said her injuries were the result of an "unavoidable accident," while Qwest denied removing the vault cover and said her claims are subject to "pro rata assessment of fault."

Luis Toro, executive director of Colorado Ethics Watch, says via email that Avila is "certainly allowed to run" for Council but added, "she would just be expected to recuse from any votes or discussions involving her lawsuit."

It's not the first time someone has sought an office of the agency named in their own lawsuit. Rodney Gehrett, an El Paso County sheriff's commander, ran for county commissioner last year after filing a lawsuit in 2015 against the county citing persecution by former Sheriff Terry Maketa. Gehrett was defeated at the County Assembly. His lawsuit is pending.


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