Secret settlement in Thanksgiving Day pileup
It was a year ago this past Thanksgiving that Vincent and Debbie Leggio died on Interstate 10 just outside Beaumont, killed in a collision with an 18-wheeler driven by Richardo Kerr for C.R. England. The heavy fog blamed for the wreck was unkind to many holiday travelers Nov. 22, 2012, and likely caused one of the largest pileups in Texas’ history.
But after almost a week of testimony in a wrongful death trial that painted a less-than-favorable picture of one of the world’s top freight carriers, an agreement was reached late Monday, Dec. 23, that kept a jury from deciding C.R. England’s fate. Quiet has settled over Judge Donald Floyd’s 172nd Civil District Court in Beaumont as the family suing C.R. England for the death of their parents agreed to an undisclosed settlement in the case.
Early testimony in the trial focused on Kerr, a contract driver for C.R. England who began his employment in April 2006, taking his first ever trucking job soon after killing two drivers in a crash in Florida while driving his personal vehicle.
Gary Thompson, a standards manager for C.R. England who helped write the company’s safety curriculum, said the company knew about Kerr’s personal driving history. Regardless, Thompson testified Kerr was compliant with federal regulations concerning his commercial driver’s license (CDL). Thompson also testified Kerr did not have to attend mandatory safety meetings as he was employed as a contractor.
Kerr’s safety record as a truck driver was also on full display. Plaintiff’s attorney Joe Jamail pointed out Kerr’s 33 admitted federal regulatory violations, some of which were for speeding, as well as 1,500 unsafe driving violations in the last two years for infractions such as headlights, marker and tail lights.
“That’s a cumulative number, and it doesn’t indicate a behavior,” Thompson said.
Police reports and expert testimony painted a different picture of Kerr. Data from the truck’s recorder said Kerr was traveling at more than 70 mph in the moments just before the collision that killed the Leggios and pinpointed when Kerr was accelerating and when he was braking. David Stopper, who analyzed the truck’s recorder and other data taken from the scene that day, testified Kerr was accelerating at least 11 seconds before the collision and did not brake until it was far too late — about two seconds before impact.
Defense attorneys pointed to Kerr’s clear Motor Vehicle Report and Kerr’s 1 million miles of safe driving award from the American Trucking Association. They also pointed to the fact that Kerr and C.R. England were compliant with all federal regulations concerning Kerr’s employment and Kerr’s own “premium” 18-wheeler.
The defense also sought to discredit Stopper, pointing to his testimony in a Colorado trial in which Stopper testified on behalf of the defense regarding a collision caused by heavy smoke from brush burning.
The defense team also pointed to conflicting police reports, at least one of which failed to mention the heavy fog as a factor in the collision.
But the police reports also detailed how Kerr’s trainee driver asked to turn off the truck’s CB radio because it was keeping him awake. The CB radio would have picked up emergency broadcasts from truckers ahead of Kerr before the radio was turned off somewhere east of Houston.
But in the end, it seems police testimony about Kerr’s actions in the moments after the wreck, along with the finding of police that Kerr’s actions that day were “negligent,” may have contributed to C.R. England choosing to secretly settle the case.
Trooper Gregory Evans was among the first on the scene and said it was only after police began removing wrecked vehicles from in front and behind the 18-wheeler that they discovered the Leggio’s vehicle crushed beneath Kerr’s massive truck.
“At first, second, third glance, you couldn’t even see there was another vehicle under there,” Evans said.
The catastrophic accident occurred on Interstate 10 at mile marker 835 near Hamshire at around 8 a.m. and involved more than 150 vehicles in an accident scene with numerous injuries. State troopers investigated 18 separate motor vehicle crashes on Interstate 10 that damaged 95 vehicles, injured 29 people and killed the Leggios. Fourteen of the crashes occurred in the eastbound lanes of Interstate 10.