North Carolina trucking firm agrees to $11 million settlement in wrongful death suit

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line Digital Content Editor | Tuesday, August 01, 2017

A tanker trucking company has agreed to pay $11 million to the widow of a truck driver who died in a fiery crash as a result of one of the company’s drivers blocking a rural highway.

Eagle Transport Corp., of Rocky Mount, N.C., did not admit fault in the crash that killed trucker Kenneth Avis in the early morning hours of Aug. 19, 2016, in Orangeburg County, S.C. Avis burned to death after striking a tanker loaded with 8,800 gallons of gasoline. The impact of the crash caused an explosion and fireball that burned so hot it melted both the tanker and the road paving, according to attorneys for Avis’ widow Teresa.

A settlement agreement was reached on July 11 in U.S. District Court of South Carolina. The settlement stipulates that Kenneth Avis’s injuries and death were the result of negligence on the part of David Lee Gullikson, a driver for Eagle Transport. According to court documents, Gullikson was traveling eastbound on South Carolina Highway 4, at 3 a.m. on the morning of the crash when he stopped in his lane of travel and attempted to back his tanker across oncoming lanes of traffic into Neeses Camp Road. Avis was traveling westbound on the same highway when he crested a hill and struck the tanker, which was blocking his lane of travel. The speed limit on that stretch of highway is 55 mph.

Court documents claim that Gullikson was high on methamphetamine at the time of the crash, according to a post-accident drug test, and that Eagle Transport had failed to properly train him to drive a tanker. Gullikson is currently in custody in the Orangeburg County jail awaiting trial on a reckless homicide charge.

Cheryl Perkins, the attorney for Avis’ family said Gullikson told police he stopped in the middle of the highway because he was unfamiliar with the route, and his GPS told him to do a U-turn.

“He decided he needed to turn around, and at 3 o’clock in the morning try to execute a three-point turn,” Perkins said in a phone interview with Land Line Now. “He learned of the route from another truck driver and he knew it was frequented by tractor-trailers and that there might be that kind of traffic on the road even though it was the middle of the night.”

Perkins, who works for the law firm of Whetstone, Perkins and Fulda in Columbia, S.C., said she believes drug use played a role in the crash.

“From the very beginning … (Gullikson) never seemed to recognize that he was in a tanker truck, fully loaded, carrying 8,800-(gallons) of gasoline blocking a roadway in the middle of the night. With a hill in front of him and a curve behind him,” she said. “What he did was so unbelievably stupid, and out of the range of normal trucker conduct … I think what would have lined up had we gone to trial would have been the expert would have said these are (indicators) of methamphetamine. The symptoms of someone on meth are poor judgment, anger, recklessness, those sort of things.”

Land Line Now News Anchor Reed Black contributed to this report.

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