Crash victim's families awarded $18.5 million

2012-12-13T22:00:00Z 2012-12-13T23:44:04Z Crash victim's families awarded $18.5 millionBy Bob Kasarda bob.kasarda@nwi.com, (219) 548-4345 nwitimes.com
December 13, 2012 10:00 pm  • 

VALPARAISO | Two families were awarded $18.5 million after a trucking crash killed two Michigan men.

A device recovered from a semitrailer truck involved in a fatal crash on an icy stretch of Interstate 94 revealed the driver was using his cruise control at 65 mph and hit his brakes just one second before the collision, according to attorney Kenneth J. Allen.

He said the victims' families are hoping the case will bring attention to truck drivers who may be driving in icy conditions.

"If you are driving a semi-tractor trailer through Northwest Indiana in wintry conditions, you better not try to drive on cruise control because if you do and you hurt or kill someone, you will be held accountable," he said.

Allen argued the driver and trucking company were negligent in causing the Feb. 3, 2011, crash, which resulted in the deaths of Michigan residents Daniel Van Dyke and Richard Hannah.

"(Driver) Earnest Johnson disregarded about every safety rule in the book," Allen told jurors during the start of this week's civil trial targeting Johnson and Celadon Trucking Services of Indianapolis.

Van Dyke's family was awarded $7.5 million and Hannah's family, including his two children, was awarded $11 million.

Celadon has filed its own suit targeting Van Dyke as being responsible for the crash, Allen said. The suit seeks reimbursement for damages to the truck.

South Haven resident Greg Hills, injured in the wreck in a third vehicle, also is targeting Johnson and Celadon.

"His own actions deprived him of the opportunity to avoid this tragic accident," Hills' attorney, David Pera, said, referring to Johnson.

Using a flat-screen television and a simulation of the crash, Allen told jurors his clients were westbound on Interstate 94 just east of the Portage interchange when another vehicle, driven by Hills, lost control and stopped in the road. Allen said his clients stopped their car behind Hills, at which time Johnson crashed into them.

Attorney Jim Milstone, representing Johnson and Celadon, said Hills broke the law by stopping in the highway, which resulted in the crash.

He said Van Dyke pulled in front of the truck.

Johnson had nine years of trucking experience and was driving 100,000 miles a year, Milstone said. He was hauling 21 tons of crushed marble on the day of the crash.

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