I-80 suit names nine truckers, 11 firms

| 2/17/2005

STATE COLLEGE, PA – A lawyer representing families of those killed in the Jan. 6, 2004, crash on Interstate 80 said Feb. 13 that a lawsuit against several drivers and trucking companies involved in the crash came about because of “the horrible loss of life and injuries sustained” in the 44-car pileup.

Eleven trucking companies, several of which are based in Pennsylvania, and nine truckers are listed as defendants in a 76-count civil suit filed Feb. 10 by the families of the six people who died as a result of the crash.

A 10-week investigation by the state police blamed on low visibility and vehicles traveling too fast for conditions. No criminal charges were filed, and no traffic citations were issued.

“We did not sue every person in the accident. We sued the people who we thought were culpable and therefore liable for our clients’ deaths,” said James E. Whelton Jr., a partner with Tremba Jelley and Whelton, of Greensburg, PA.

Those named in the suit are:

  • Robert Nuzzo of Pittsburgh and Roehl Transport Inc. of Marshfield, WI;
  • Attila Polyak of Richland, WA, and Floyd Blinsky Trucking Inc. of Yakima, WA;
  • William W. Miller Jr. of Altoona, PA, McClellan Transport Inc. of Tyrone, PA, and Arthur Smith Trucking Inc. of Morrisdale, PA;
  • Michael R. Rice of Hamilton, OH, Voyager Truck Line Inc. of Cincinnati and two Penske Truck Leasing Co. subsidiaries;
  • John C. Davis of Smithmill, PA, Roger (aka Rodger) Kephart Trucking Inc. of Houtzdale, PA;
  • Bryce F. Wiborg of New Ulm, MN, Roger Hammond of Hanska, MN, and D&A Truck Lines of New Ulm, MN;
  • Michael B. Toro of Stroudsburg, PA, and three FedEx subsidiaries; and
  • Bradford L. Nadeau of Barre, MA, and Dart Trucking Company, of Canfield, OH.

Court documents obtained by the Centre Daily Times on Sunday show that the families think that actions by certain truck drivers, rather than weather conditions, caused the pileup.

State police, after consultation with the Centre County district attorney’s office, said no individual’s actions rose to the level that would merit prosecution for any serious offense, such as homicide by vehicle or reckless driving.

Those bringing the lawsuit contend the six victims died as a result of multiple impacts and the subsequent fire that engulfed the wreck, according to court documents.

Survivors of Casper and Anita Aleo, Edward and Catherine Horn, Robert Culp, and Robert Reeder claim that, among with other actions, the truck drivers were driving at unsafe speeds, failed to keep a reasonable lookout for hazards, and failed to use or apply brakes or take any reasonable steps to avoid collision. The trucking companies, they say, employed the drivers with full knowledge of their poor driving records, failed to enforce Department of Transportation regulations about how long drivers were on the road and failed to train these drivers to effectively operate in in­clement weather.

In addition to the numerous wrongful-death claims filed against the truckers and their companies, truck driver Florian Schreier, of Santa Rosa, Calif., is suing Nuzzo, Roehl Transport, Polyak, Floyd Blinsky Trucking, Miller, McClellan Transport, Arthur Smith Trucking, Rice and Penske Truck Leasing for personal injury. Attempts to contact Schreier on Feb. 13 were unsuccessful.

According to the documents, Schreier sustained significant injuries, including a fractured pelvis and a dislocated hip. His injuries have left him unable to work, he says.

However, according to the lawsuit, drivers William W. Miller Jr. and Michael Rice “were seen ‘flying’ past other vehicles at speeds far in excess of what would be safe under the conditions which included, but were not limited to, a slick roadway with limited visibility.”

Miller and Rice lost control of their tractor-trailers and set off the chain reaction, the document said.

John C. Davis then collided with the vehicles on the road, starting another chain-reaction. In that chain, Bryce F. Wiborg and Roger L. Hammond, driving separate D&A tractor-trailers, hit the wreck.

It is at that point, the document said, that victims Edward Horn, Robert J. Culp and Casper J. Aleo came upon the accident scene. The three cars were able to avoid the wreck.

However, according to the document, driver Michael B. Toro, who was hauling dual tandem trailers behind his cab, “was driving at speeds well above those which would have allowed him to stop.” Toro’s tractor-trailer hit all three cars, pushing them between his vehicle and the D&A truck stopped in front of them.

When Nadeau’s vehicle, which may have been hauling hazardous materials, approached the scene, it crashed and ignited the materials it was carrying.

Attorney Whelton said that because all 20 defendants must be served with papers and then answer the lawsuit, it could be “two to three months before we’re in front of a judge.”

“And even that,” he said, “depends on how the defendants answer.”

By Lara Brenckle
lbrenckl@centredaily.com

Reprinted with permission from the Centre Daily Times and www.centredaily.com