BRATTLEBORO -- The family of a man killed in a fiery crash on Interstate 91 in February 2008 is seeking damages from the maker of the truck he was driving the night he drove off the Williams Street Bridge in Brattleboro.
According to William Caldwell, the attorney for Edvin Medina's widow and children, the design of the Freightliner truck built by Daimler Trucks North America was responsible for Medina's death.
"We are investigating the design of the vehicle and how it contributed to his death," said Caldwell, of Carter, Van Rensselaer and Caldwell of Clinton, N.J. "It was reported that there was an explosion on the deck of the bridge which lead to fire engulfing the cab. Mr. Medina was unable to escape the fire and died as a consequence."
On Feb. 5, 2008, Medina, of Plainfield, N.J., was traveling north on I-91 when he encountered a disabled Dodge Caravan on the bridge.
According to court documents filed by Caldwell, the driver of the Caravan "operated ... in a negligent and careless manner without due consideration for the attendant road conditions resulting in (the driver) losing control of the ... vehicle causing it to strike one or more objects along the Interstate, then coming to rest in the traveled portion of the Interstate."
Medina attempted to avoid the broken-down vehicle but lost control of his truck, crashed through the guardrail of the bridge and plunged nearly 70 feet to the road below. The bridge is at the
"Medina survived the initial accident but the tractor portion of (the truck) was engulfed in flames," wrote Caldwell in court documents. "Medina could be heard screaming before he died."
On behalf of Medina's family, Caldwell sued T.P. Sampson Company, a funeral home in Springfield, Mass., and the owner of the Dodge Caravan, with which a settlement was reached in 2011. The amount of the settlement is considered confidential.
Police concluded the accident occurred because the drivers were traveling too fast for the slushy conditions.
Daimler Trucks is at fault for Medina's death, wrote Caldwell, because the fuel tanks were improperly designed or constructed, causing them to rupture "allowing diesel fuel to attain a state sufficient for combustion to occur."
In addition, he wrote, the truck had batteries that broke loose resulting in them becoming a source of ignition.
Two weeks ago, Caldwell and attorneys for Daimler were in Brattleboro, taking depositions from witnesses including Brattleboro Fire Chief Mike Bucossi and Lt. Rick Hopkins of the Vermont State Police.
"Both the state police and the town's fire department had personnel there who had recollections and had recorded information," said Caldwell. "We also took testimony from the medical examiner in Burlington."
The attorney for Daimler Trucks, Robert Cook of Goldberg Segalla in Princeton, N.J., did not respond to a request for information, but in documents filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, the accident happened "due to the negligence of others over whom (Daimler) had no control," namely Medina and the driver of the Dodge Caravan.
In addition, the truck was not defective and was designed and manufactured in full compliance with governmental requirements and industry standards, wrote Cook.
He also claimed the truck Medina was driving had been
Cook also wrote that Medina wasn't wearing his seat restraints at the time of the accident and evidence has since been "destroyed, lost or spoilated ..."
Even if the court finds Daimler was negligent, wrote the attorneys, any settlement should take into account the "primary negligence" of Medina and the driver of the Dodge Caravan.
At the time of the accident, the driver of the Caravan and a man who lives near the bridge and watched as the truck burned both faulted the road for the accident.
But suing a governmental agency, such as the state, for the nature of the bridge, is unrealistic, said Caldwell.
"Government entities have special privileges and immunities that make it difficult to sue," he said. "They have thousands of miles of roads and hundreds of bridges."
"A road can't be at fault," Lt. Rick Hopkins told the Reformer in 2008. "It can't do anything to contribute to an accident. It's just there. A lot of people drive in the same conditions and don't have an accident. It all comes down to the responsibility of the driver."
That portion of interstate has been the site of numerous accidents in the past, according to the Vermont Agency of Transportation.
The state placed the three-tenths of a mile strip of highway on a list of hot spots when reports showed 17 accidents between 2002 and 2006. The Highway Safety Improvement Program identified 752 places that needed to be targeted for work, placing this strip at 160.
In the summer of 2011, contractors for AOT began the process of replacing both spans of the bridge crossing Williams Street.
Caldwell said he is in the process of tracking down more witnesses.
"People who believe they have relevant information ... we welcome their telephone calls," he said. He can be reached at 908-730-7900.
Caldwell passed on the thanks to area residents of Medina's widow.
He said she was stunned by the empathy, caring and very generous and unexpected outpouring of donations and letters of condolences from local citizens following the crash.
Bob Audette can be reached at email@example.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160.