Jurors in Dixie County, Florida, recently awarded more than $2 million to the family of a local man who drove his car under a tractor-trailer while intoxicated. OOIDA members Marsha Kay and Sam Chesser of Old Town, were backing their semi into their driveway at approximately midnight on Aug. 24, 1996, when J.D. Walker's vehicle hit the trailer.
Police said the Chessers, who are leased to S&J Express of Orlando, were backing their rig across a two-lane highway. Although the trailer was white with reflective striping, Walker apparently did not see the trailer and collided with it. According to police reports, there were no skid marks. Police also reported Walker had a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.19. (The legal limit in Florida is .08.) Marsha Kay Chesser, who was backing the rig, was not cited for the accident until seven months later, when she was charged with gross negligence.
EMTs present at the scene testified the trailer was not visible to oncoming traffic, despite the interpretation by a federal motor carrier safety official that under the circumstances, the trailer should have been visible for 800 ft. The driver, therefore, should have seen it. This was the premise of the trial.
The Chessers are calling the trial "one-sided." The victim's father works in the Dixie County Sheriff's office, and Walker's relatives sat on the jury. Not only that, say the Chessers, the judge disallowed the BAC of the deceased as evidential.
During the trial, an expert witness for the plaintiff was introduced. According to the Chessers, the testimony of this person was "the final straw." This "expert witness," an instructor from a truckdriving school, stated that "backing a tractor-trailer should only be attempted when absolutely necessary."
Local newswoman Jane Connors covered the trial for the Dixie County Advocate. Connors, who called the circumstances tragic, told Land Line that "living in Dixie County is like stepping back in time." Connors says she understood the trucker's side of the case because she herself has a CDL. Connors and her husband, Michael, are both members of OOIDA.
"And you won't believe the name of the judge," Connors said, "The Dixie County judge who presided over the trial is named Judge Roy Bean."
The Chessers are appealing the verdict.