ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - A judge has awarded nearly $80 million to the family of a New Mexico woman who died in 2002 when a tractor-trailer struck her car and buried it in sand, suffocating the woman as teachers and students at a nearby school frantically tried to dig her out.

Laura Miera, 48, of Albuquerque, had just dropped off her 14-year-old daughter at Jimmy Carter Middle School and was waiting at a traffic light when the semi exited Interstate 40 and came barreling toward her.

The Albuquerque Redi-Mix truck pushed her car to the curb, then rolled. Miera was trapped as the semi's open load of sand poured down on her.

Counselors, teachers, and students on their way to school tried to dig her out by hand. One counselor comforted Miera as the car filled with sand.

"It was devastating," said Jacob Vigil, the attorney who has represented Miera's family in the 10-year legal fight.

"The school counselor was holding her hand, praying, while the sand just rose above her head, and the counselor just kept saying, 'Squeeze my hand if you can hear me.' She squeezed for a while until she died."

The suit says the semi involved in the crash had expired registration, three brakes out of adjustment, and a driver with two DWI charges before he was hired by Albuquerque Redi-Mix.

Vigil said Tuesday that the judgment offered no consolation. What he and the family hope is that the case leads to tougher regulations and real consequences for trucking firms that are cited or fined for unsafe operations.