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Drunken Firefighter Sued For Negligence Driver Of Pickup Struck By Firetruck Files Action

A Coeur d’Alene man whose pickup was broadsided by a 13-ton firetruck has filed a lawsuit against the firefighter who admitted he drove drunk.

Michael Dodge’s lawsuit accuses James G. Jeffrey of acting with gross negligence, recklessness and outside the scope of his employment with the Athol Fire Protection District. It seeks punitive damages from Jeffrey and the fire district “in substantial excess of $10,000.”

Jeffrey’s negligence includes his failure to use the lights on the firetruck, yield the right of way, stop and render aid and keep a proper lookout for other vehicles using the roadway, according to the suit filed in Idaho’s 1st District Court.

The fire district should have prevented Jeffrey from operating equipment under the influence of alcohol and negligently hired or retained him, the suit said.

Dodge was driving south on U.S. Highway 95 in August 1996 when the fire tanker truck Jeffrey was driving hit the left side of his pickup. As the mangled pickup careened into a field, Jeffrey kept driving the firetruck.

Jeffrey, a volunteer firefighter, pleaded guilty last fall to misdemeanor drunken driving and leaving the scene of an accident. He was sentenced to 88 days in jail after telling a judge he drank half a bottle of wine with dinner the night of the accident and two to three shots of liquor.

Jeffrey, who could not be reached for comment, said when he was sentenced that when he hit Dodge’s pickup he didn’t think it was a serious accident. He decided he would take the water to the fire and then come back and check on the accident.

“Mr. and Mrs. Dodge, I made a bad decision,” Jeffrey said at his sentencing hearing. “I had two allegiances. I chose the wrong one. I’m terribly sorry.”

Dodge has suffered from insomnia, nightmares and memory loss since the accident, his attorney Michael Verbillis said. He also has left his job with a construction company since the accident.

Calls to Dodge and the Athol Fire Protection District on Friday were not returned.

“He’s had some difficulties. The difficulties are serious and substantial,” Verbillis said. “Right now they appear permanent. We’re hopeful that they’re not.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo