Lawsuit seeks $350 million from CRST for 2014 crash that injured CHP trooper

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line associate editor | Friday, January 20, 2017

A lawsuit seeking hundreds of millions in damages against CRST, Inc., its subsidiaries and a former company driver for their role in a July 2014 crash that severely injured a former California Highway Patrol officer and his brother.

The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court alleges that CRST Inc., CRST Van Expedited, and other companies were negligent in the hiring of driver Hector Contreras, who was behind the wheel of one of the company’s 2014 Freightliner tractors when the rig reportedly crossed the center line and struck a private passenger vehicle carrying California Highway Patrol officer Michael Lennig and his brother Matthew on July 7, 2014. The suit alleges that Contreras was under the influence at the time of the crash.

The suit claims that CRST and its associated companies failed and refused to properly hire, screen, train and/or supervise their employees. The lawsuit seeks punitive damages in excess of $350 million.

According to the complaint, CRST was negligent by failing to perform an adequate background check on Contreras, failing to follow their own policies, and failing to pull Contreras off of the road following four previous accidents before the July collision.

Among the allegations in the lawsuit are that CRST and its affiliated companies failed to conduct an in-depth background check on Contreras, and hired him despite his alleged record of having been convicted of driving under the influence, grand theft auto, and “multiple convictions for the possession of illicit substances and illicit substance use.” The lawsuit also claims that from his hire date of Dec. 5, 2013, and the date of the crash, Contreras caused a total of four preventable collisions, including two that occurred less than two weeks before the crash with the Lennigs.

“CRST driver Hector Contreras has a long list of prior convictions ranging from driving under the influence, possession of drug paraphernalia, and felony grand theft auto,” plaintiffs’ attorney Khail Parris said in a press release. “CRST had also been alerted by his co-driver that Hector Contreras posed a danger to the public at large.”

CRST Expedited did not respond to a request for comment.

Despite causing four preventable collisions, Contreras was only required to attend one defensive driving course. Two months prior to the collision, the lawsuit states, Contreras’ co-driver notified CRST that the defendant was pulled over by law enforcement for tailgating and speeding in a construction zone.

The suit also alleges that Contreras, who had been hired in December 2013, was driving the truck without a co-driver, in violation of the company’s own policy of having new employee drivers undergo a probationary period with a co-driver.

The crash occurred on State Route 14 in Mojave, in a construction zone on the Red Rock Canyon Bridge. According to a press release issued Thursday by the Parris law firm, Matthew suffered a traumatic brain injury, severe injuries to his arm, and multiple fractures to his ribs. Michael, a California Highway Patrol officer, shattered two vertebrae and sustained a traumatic brain injury.

The lawsuit also seeks damages from several construction companies for failing to erect “K-rails” or any other barriers between northbound and southbound traffic which would have prevented the crash.

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