Gayheart Settles Wrongful Death Suit

Actress reaches "amicable" agreement with parents of boy she killed; lawyer says all parties have "closure"

By Marcus Errico Jan 24, 2002 1:15 AMTags
Rebecca Gayheart has settled a wrongful-death lawsuit involving an accident last summer in which she hit and killed a nine-year-old boy.

The 29-year-old former Noxzema Girl and 90210 actress was driving through Hollywood last June in a friend's Jeep Grand Cherokee when she struck Jorge Cruz Jr. as he jaywalked across the street.

While several cars had stopped to let him go, Gayheart allegedly swerved around the traffic and into a two-way left-turn lane, hitting the boy. He died at a nearby hospital.

The boy's parents, Jorge Cruz and Silvia Martinez, filed the wrongful-death lawsuit in August against Gayheart, citing her negligence as the reason for their son's death. The parents sought medical, hospital and funeral expenses, along with other damages.

Lawyers for both the Cruz family and Gayheart announced Wednesday that the case has been settled out of court.

Steven Lerman, who represented Cruz and Martinez, says the deal was struck at the end of December, and the terms of settlement will remain confidential, per his clients' request.

However, he says, "The resolution was something that allowed the parties to achieve a sense of closure."

Gayheart's attorney, James Crandell, adds that the settlement was "amicable."

While it's unknown whether the actress made a cash payment to the family, she did pay for the boy's hospital and funeral expenses and had offered to pay for grief counseling for the parents.

Aside from the civil suit, Gayheart faced a criminal charge of manslaughter stemming from the incident. In November, she pleaded no contest and was sentenced to three years' probation, a one-year suspension of her license, a $2,800 fine and 750 hours of community service.

She was also ordered to make a public-service announcement. The subject: proper street-crossing safety and driving awareness.

Although Gayheart didn't comment on the suit, she did issue a statement following the accident. "There are no words to express my sorrow and regret over the accident. I send my prayers, thoughts and deepest sympathy to the family," Gayheart said. "Despite the allegations in the lawsuit, the facts will establish that this was a most unfortunate accident. The pain of this tragedy will live with me forever."

The Kentucky-born actress first found fame as the "fresh-faced" Noxzema Girl in a series of TV commercials and magazine ads, before turning to acting. She played Luke Perry's wife on Beverly Hills, 90210, had a role in the short-lived ABC series Wasteland and starred in such teen flicks as Urban Legend, Scream 2 and Jawbreaker. She recently starred in the indie films Harvard Man and Pipe Dream.