June 1, 2011 in City

Runaway truck case in hands of jury

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Nearly five years after he died in a fiery crash, the family of Daren Lafayette should know soon who, if anyone, is responsible and how to compensate the family for his loss.

The jury will begin this morning deliberating the case that included three weeks of testimony about what happened Sept. 12, 2006, on the highway construction site on Flowery Trail Road near Chewelah when a work truck began rolling downhill toward waiting cars.

Lafayette, 19, who was working for a subcontractor installing roadway signs, chased the truck down, climbed aboard, but was unable to get it to stop before tumbling over an embankment.

On Tuesday, five attorneys gave closing statements in the case in which attorneys for Lafayette’s parents sued the general contractor in charge of highway work, the maker of a supplemental brake used on the truck and the man who installed the brake without also installing a companion alarm that allows operators to know when brake fluid is low.

“In four-and-a-half years, not one of the defendants stepped up and took responsibility,” attorney Roger Felice told the jury. “So we had to fight.”

Felice, and his son Michael Felice, are asking the jury to determine the award and put most of the blame on the general contractor, N.A. Degerstrom, for not outfitting its subcontractors with simple tire chocks, which would have stopped the truck even if the brakes failed. They also put blame on MICO Industries, the maker of the brake, and James Bonner, who installed the MICO Lever Lock, which was used to help secure the vehicle.

Attorney Lori O’Tool, representing N.A. Degerstrom, compared her client to a forest and the many subcontractors to trees that were in charge of their own leaves. “The general contractor cannot keep track of all the trees at one time. The plaintiff is asking Degerstrom to be responsible for when a leaf falls off that tree.”

Instead, O’Tool and Steve Stocker, the attorney representing MICO, blamed William Wright, who parked the truck, for not taking correct safety precautions.

Ed Johnson, the attorney for Bonner, said the only plausible reason for the truck to start rolling was a rupture in the brake line and that an alarm in that case would have done neither Wright nor Lafayette any good.

“Nothing that Mr. Bonner did had any effect in the truck starting to roll and Mr. Lafayette’s ability to stop it,” Johnson said.


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