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$6.75 million settlement in death of Streeterville woman hit by tour bus

JustynPalkwas killed by tour bus as she crossed Streeterville street not far from her home. | Facebook photo

Justyna Palka was killed by a tour bus as she crossed a Streeterville street, not far from her home. | Facebook photo

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Updated: August 28, 2013 7:52PM

A Chicago tour bus company will pay the family of young graphic designer $6.75 million after one of their tour bus drivers allegedly had cocaine in his system when he fatally struck the woman in Streeterville in 2011.

Justyna Palka, 26, was crossing the street at Columbus and Illinois when a turning tour bus struck her early the night of May 3, 2011, authorities said. Palka had the right-of-way and had only taken four or five steps when she was struck, prosecutors said.

“The loss of a child is devastating,” Thomas Demetrio, attorney for the Palka family, said in a statement. “That the loss was caused by a man who should never have been behind the wheel of a tour bus is incomprehensible.”

The driver, David Soto, told investigators he heard a bump and thought it was the curb, authorities said. When he heard a second bump he got out of the bus and found the woman.

Soto, 47, of the 8600 block of West Berwyn, was charged with aggravated DUI after he tested positive for having cocaine in his system at the time of the crash, authorities said. The criminal case is still pending.

Palka’s family sued the owners of the tour bus, Pontarelli Group Charter, claiming the bus company was negligent in hiring a driver with a history of traffic violations.

Soto racked up 20 citations for traffic violations between 1998 and 2008, according to court records. In 2008, his Commercial Drivers License was temporarily suspended, according to the suit.

After Soto’s arrest, authorities found he was wanted in two sexual assault cases involving minor girls; he was charged in that case with predatory criminal sexual assault of a child and aggravated criminal sexual abuse of a victim under 13. Soto was sentenced to 8 years in prison in 1993 for an aggravated criminal sexual assault conviction involving another girl, aged 6. He also received a four-year prison sentence in 1982 for attempted rape and aggravated battery.

Palka lived just blocks from where she was stuck and killed.

She was born in Krakow, Poland and raised in Dortmund, Germany, and spoke three languages, attorneys for her family said.

She is survived by her mother, Malgorzata Palka, of Chicago, and her father, Ludwik Palka, and brothers Sebastian and Tomasz Palka, who live in Germany, according to Corboy & Demetrio.

“Justyna Palka’s infectious spirit, fun-loving personality, and genuine caring nature touched all that were lucky enough to have known her. Justyna was, and is, an inspiration to all. The Palka family lost a beautiful, gifted, wonderful daughter and sister,” attorney William T. Gibbs said in the statement.

Palka graduated from the School of the Art Institute and worked as art director at Olilvy & Mather’s Chicago office.

In addition to the $6.75 million settlement, Pontarelli Group Charter agreed pay $500 per year to the “Justyna Palka Memorial Scholarship Fund of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago” through 2022, attorneys said.

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