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Calif. woman's family sues government over death

A federal lawsuit has been filed on behalf of the daughter of a woman killed in a highway collision in Joshua Tree involving a Marine who allegedly fell asleep behind the wheel of a military issued Humvee.

Kristin April Thrawl, 26, of Yucca Valley, was killed in the April 19, 2013, collision on Highway 62, west of Sunkist Avenue.

Thrawl, who worked at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, was on her way home from work, traveling west on Highway 62 in her 2010 Ford Focus about 3:30 p.m.. Juan Carlos Lira, a Marine, was driving a tan AMGC Humvee east on the highway, traveling in a convoy of about 20 military vehicles en route to the Twentynine Palms Marine base from Camp Pendleton.

According to the lawsuit, Lira became drowsy while driving. The Humvee drifted to the right. Lira’s passenger, another Marine, asked him if he was OK to continue driving, and Lira insisted he was, according to the lawsuit.

Within minutes, Lira started dozing off again. The Humvee drifted to the right, colliding with Thrawl’s Ford Focus. The impact caused both vehicles to swerve off the road and overturn, the lawsuit claims.

Thrawl suffered major trauma to her head, both legs and left arm. She died at the scene, according to the CHP’s traffic collision report.

“Despite realizing he was nodding off behind the wheel, Lira refused assistance and continued driving the subject Humvee,” according to the lawsuit, filed April 22 in U.S. District Court in Riverside.

Thrawl was an employee at the Marine Base and on her way home from work, where her then 5-year-old daughter and other family members were waiting with cake and balloons to celebrate Thrawl’s upcoming birthday, said Katherine Harvey-Lee, an attorney representing Thrawl’s daughter in the case.

The lawsuit was filed by the daughter’s father, Philip Jacobson.

“This accident didn’t have to happen,” Harvey-Lee said in a statement Monday. “The Humvee driver made the wrong decision to continue driving tired that day and the result took the life of an innocent mother of a little girl who was waiting at home to celebrate her mother’s birthday.”

Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Eric Flanagan declined to comment Monday. He said it is Marine Corps protocol not to comment on pending litigation.

Thrawl also has a 2-year-old son from a previous relationship. An attorney representing the father, Darren Aitken, didn’t return a telephone call Monday seeking comment.

Thrawl was a loving mother who doted on her children, writing them poems and plastering her Facebook page with their photos, Harvey-Lee said.

Once the second lawsuit is filed by Thrawl’s son’s father, a date for a bench trial, which is held before a judge without a jury present, will be scheduled, Harvey-Lee said.

“It’s a bench trial because it’s a case against the government, and that’s the rule,” Harvey-Lee said.

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