Second suit filed against Caltrans in woman’s death. Husband says he’s ‘rightful heir’

A second family member is suing Caltrans over the death of Shannon Bigley at a homeless encampment along Highway 99 last summer.

Her father, Maurice Bigley, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Stanislaus County Superior Court against Caltrans the month after her August death. In February, Shannon’s husband, Ernest Gray, filed a similar lawsuit.

The attorney for Maurice Bigley anticipates the cases will be consolidated. Gray said he is Shannon Bigley’s “rightful heir.” If an agreement is not made on consolidation a judge might have to decide.

Shannon Bigley died just before 6 a.m. on Aug. 1 when Caltrans equipment operator Brady Walker drove a front loader into the grassy ravine along Highway 99, south of Kansas Avenue, where she was sleeping.

Walker was clearing the area of debris as part of one of many daily sweeps by Caltrans to remove homeless encampments from their property.

California Highway Patrol investigators found that “(Walker’s) actions, of using the loader’s bucket to scrape debris backwards, unintentionally caused the death of Ms. Bigley,” according to a coroner’s report.

The bucket crushed Bigley’s skull and upper body. She died of multiple injuries to her head, neck, chest and abdomen.

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Walker is also a defendant in both lawsuits.

A Caltrans spokesman said the agency cannot comment on pending litigation.

Their attorney, Jeffrey Knox, filed a response to Maurice Bigley’s complaint in March, denying the allegations.

He has not responded to Gray’s complaint, which was filed Monday.

During the first court hearing in Maurice Bigley’s case on April 8, the issue of Gray’s lawsuit was discussed.

“There may be motions filed to determine whether plaintiff Maurice Bigley or the alleged spouse and children have standing and/or priority,” Knox wrote in his case management statement.

Eric Khodadian, Maurice Bigley’s Los Angeles-based attorney, said he predicts the two cases will be consolidated.

But during a phone interview with The Bee in March, Gray and his brother, Carl Dangerfield, said Gray is seeking to have their lawsuit supplant Maurice Bigley’s.

Attorneys with the Beverly Hills Based law firm MKP Law Group, which represents Gray, did not return phone calls by The Bee seeking comment but wrote in the complaint that Gray “is the lawful heir.”

It states he and Bigley are the parents of two other remaining potential claimants, their son and daughter, but that “there are no other lawful heirs.”

Khodadian declined to comment on Gray’s case but said the complaint filed on behalf of Gray, “highlights that a lot of people have been affected by Shannon’s passing and that Caltrans needs to step up and be accountable for their negligence and we need to change how we treat homeless people in this state. What happened to her was totally unacceptable.”

Gray and Shannon Bigley have two children together whom they lost custody of several years ago.

Dangerfield said their family also is working with an attorney to get back custody of them. Bigley and Gray’s daughter turned 7 on Saturday and their son will be 6 next month.

Dangerfield said the son was adopted recently but that they are still within the legal time frame to appeal the adoption.

Gray would not discuss what led to the state taking their children.

“It is an open case,” Gray said. “I have been advised not to speak on that.”

Stockton Police contacted Gray and Bigley three times for disturbances at their apartment from July 2015 to February 2016, according to the department’s spokesman, Officer Joe Silva.

Officers referred the case to Child Protective Services after their first contact with Bigley and Gray on July 13, 2015. The children were 3 and 2.

Gray hadn’t seen Bigley for months before her death but said he assumed they would get back together.

“The last time I talked to her she said she needed a little space to work things out with herself,” Gray said.

It was several months after Bigley’s death that he learned about it on social media.

“It was like getting hit in the head with a sledgehammer,” he said. “She has some issues (but) she was a good kid, she was a loveable person.”

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