Tuesday August 07 10:00 PM EDT Gayheart Sued for Wrongful Death

Gayheart Sued for Wrongful Death

A Los Angeles couple has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Rebecca Gayheart, claiming the former "Noxzema girl" turned Beverly Hills, 90210 costar was negligent when the car she was driving struck and killed their 9-year-old boy.

Jorge Cruz, 32, and Silvia Martinez, 38, claim the boy, Jorge Cruz Jr., was crossing the street near Bronson Avenue and Carlton Way in Hollywood when a '96 Jeep Grand Cherokee driven by Gayheart hit the child.

The suit, filed Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court, names Gayheart as a defendant as well as the car's owner, actor Marco Leonardi. The suit seeks unspecified damages, as well as hospital and funeral expenses.

Gayheart responded to the charges in a statement Tuesday, expressing "sorrow and regret" over the incident, but denying there was negligence.

"There are no words to express my sorrow and regret over the accident. I send my prayers, thoughts and deepest sympathy to the family," she 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 couple's attorney, Steven Lerman, said the boy was walking home from school June 13 when another driver stopped for him in the intersection and waved him across. Gayheart allegedly tried to swerve around the car to pass, and then struck the child.

The boy was later pronounced dead at a Los Angeles-area hospital, Lerman says.

"The vehicle was driven in an unsafe and negligent manner," Lerman says. "The defendant did not yield the right of way to the pedestrian and furthermore was inattentive."

Lerman says Los Angeles police interviewed Gayheart at the scene, but did not arrest her. Because alcohol was not a factor, Lerman says he did not expect criminal charges to be filed. It's unclear whether the LAPD (news - web sites) is still investigating the matter.

Lerman also claimed that Gayheart was using a cell phone at the time of the incident, but her lawyer, Martin Singer, vehemently denies those allegations. "That's absolutely false," he says. "She was not on a cell phone at any time.

"It was a young boy who was jaywalking, and he was running across the street when he was struck by the car," Singer says.

"This is a tragic loss for everyone," he adds. "It was a horrifying thing for her, and she has not driven a car since then. Our client has already paid for their funeral expenses...and she wanted to do anything she could to help the family."

Gayheart, 28, got her start in show-biz as a model, starring in TV spots as the fresh-faced "Noxzema girl," before landing a costarring role on Beverly Hills, 90210 as Antonia "Toni" Marchette-McKay, the wife of Dylan McKay (Luke Perry). Her character was later killed off in a mob-style hit-gone-wrong, but the Kentucky-born Gayheart went on to star in the short-lived WB series Wasteland, as well as teen flicks such as Scream 2, Urban Legend and 1999's Jawbreaker.

Lerman told E! News Daily Tuesday that the family is in "deep grief" following the incident and insisted that "the fact that Ms. Gayheart is an actress really is no concern" to the couple. "The family is seeking justice," Lerman said.

(UPDATED 7 p.m. PT on 8/7/01)