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Judge upholds jury verdict in truck crash lawsuit

By Sally Voth -- svoth@nvdaily.com

A federal court judge has upheld a jury's verdict that an Arkansas trucking company and its driver were negligent in a cash that killed three men on Interstate 81 in Shenandoah County.

U.S. District Judge Michael F. Urbanski issued his ruling on Tuesday, according to online court records, finding that Pat Salmon & Sons Inc. and its driver, John Joseph Banik, of Coldwater, Miss., owed $687,500 to Pitt Ohio Express LLC and its driver, Three Churches, W.Va. resident Thomas Troxel Miller.

The plaintiffs had been seeking about $1.7 million from Pat Salmon and Banik, as well as from C. Bean Transport Inc., of Amity, Ark., and driver William Michael Fewell, of Bedias, Texas. They originally sought $2.175 million.

That is the amount Miller and Pitt Ohio paid to the families of Hilario Guox Vicente, 27, and Ramiro Vicente-Ajun, 35, who were both from Edinburg, and Brighton, Tenn. resident Dennis Lavelle Fayne, 50, who were killed in the April 2009 crash.

Jurors didn't find C. Bean Transport or Fewell negligent in the June trial, according to court records.

Fewell's and Banik's tractor-trailers had collided, and Fayne had gotten out of Banik's truck following the crash. Vicente and Vicente-Ajun were in a Hyundai that stopped for the crash, and were struck by Miller's truck and pushed into Banik's tractor-trailer.

Pitt Ohio and Miller had claimed the initial collision was due to negligence on the part of the defendants in the latest suit. On June 25, Salmon & Sons and Banik had asked the judge to postpone the verdict as they planned to file post-trial motions and possibly appeal the jury's ruling, according to court records.

The plaintiffs filed a July 24 motion opposing a motion from Banik and Salmon & Sons to throw out the jury's verdict. That motion states that Banik pleaded guilty to improper driving in relation to the crash, and that the jury could consider the guilty plea an admission of negligence. Banik collided with the truck ahead of him, according to the motion.

"Banik conceded that he observed the lead truck, but 'didn't stop in time,'" the motion states.

It states the fatal collision occurred about 5 seconds later, according to the motion.

"There was sufficient evidence to establish that Banik's negligent conduct triggered a continuous chain of events spanning mere seconds that produced the second collision..." it states.

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