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Tahoe man dies in San Diego, lawsuit rejected by city

Michael Schneider

A former South Lake Tahoe resident paralyzed last May in a car accident in the Tahoe Keys died Sunday in a San Diego hospital.

Joseph “Matt” Wilson, 35, was pronounced dead at about 8 p.m. at Paradise Valley Hospital.

The San Diego County Coroner’s Office listed the official cause of death as asphyxia due to neck compression caused by acute ethanol intoxication. Wilson, who had a history of alcoholism, demanded and was often given beer while at the hospital, according to the coroner’s office.

Coroner’s reports said Wilson, who had no use of his arms or legs, could drink up to seven beers at a time through a straw.

After the May 9 accident in which Wilson was a passenger, he was flown to San Francisco where he underwent surgery on his injured spine. He was eventually moved to the hospital in San Diego to be near family.

Wilson’s brother, Steve, said Wilson had made some progress and was released from the hospital months ago. He was readmitted about a month ago with severe bacterial infections related to the injury.

Steve said he and his brothers and sister had been taking turns visiting their injury-stricken brother in the hospital since his transfer to San Diego.

“Monday Night Football was my time with him,” Steve said.

David Cornett, Wilson’s longtime friend who was at the wheel of the 1959 Volkswagen Bug that crashed, was sentenced to a five-year stayed prison term on Oct. 24 after pleading guilty to one count of felony drunken driving.

A condition of Cornett’s probation was that he spend one year in the El Dorado County Jail.

According to reports, Cornett entered the sharp left-hand curve where Tahoe Keys Boulevard becomes Ala Wai at well above the recommended speed. His vehicle left the roadway and skidded into a boulder then flipped onto its side.

Wilson was motionless and silent, according to witnesses at the scene, until the witnesses turned the car back onto its wheels, at which time he made some noise but remained motionless.

He was taken out of the vehicle on a backboard and flown to Washoe Medical Center then to Mt. Zion Hospital in San Francisco.

Wilson first was listed in stable condition after his surgery, but then his condition deteriorated to critical. Steve said his brother, who was confined to a wheelchair which he operated with a joystick with his chin, was never happy after the accident and always questioned why it happened.

Wilson had, through his attorney Paul William Danielsen, filed a claim against the city of South Lake Tahoe, which claimed the city was at fault for the dangerous curve where the accident occurred.

Steve said he believes the suit will go nowhere as any potential money from the claim had been for his brother.

Steve said Wilson loved to snowboard and especially loved to ride his bike, his primary source of transportation.

“He never even got his driver’s license,” Steve said. “He biked everywhere.”


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