Posted on 9/23/2016 Is distracted driving an epidemic?
We have news items posted on all of these stories and a blog will be posted this week discussing two headlines concluding Iowa deaths are up as a result of inexpensive gas. I’ve notice a dramatic increase in death cases. If you think I’m exaggerating, see if you can get through the twenty-stories. Some are from work or as a pedestrian, but most are from car, truck, bike and motorcycle collisions. Here are the stories.
Adventureland Employee Dies from Ride Injuries
Steve Booher, an employee of Adventureland, died from injuries he received while working on the “Raging River” ride at the park on June 7th. Booher was assisting riders when he slipped and fell. He was transported to a nearby hospital where he remained on life support until Saturday, when he succumbed from his injuries. Sadly, Booher had been on the job for less than a week when the accident occurred. Proper training and the right safety equipment are the first measures against on-the-job injury prevention.
When an employee dies on the job their dependents are entitled to receive life-time weekly indemnity benefits. Those benefits can be commuted into a lump sum, but not automatically. Employees who are killed while on the job, are also entitled to limited burial benefits. This is Iowa’s way of taking care of dependents of those killed while on the job. It’s a way of taking care of Iowa’s injured work force.
Coaches Corner: Cross Country Student Killed During Athletic Practice
Heartbreaker out of Shenandoah, Iowa - Kinsee Rooker, 14, was participating in cross country practice at approximately 7:15 a.m. on June 7th. As she crossed at the intersection of Highway 2 and A Avenue in Shenandoah she was struck by a vehicle driven by Brent McKinnon. Rooker died at the scene. An investigation is ongoing in this case.
This is a tough one to report about. I coached soccer for over ten years. I still live and work in West Des Moines where the Valley High School Tigers train for cross-country. I see the cross country teams running along the streets as I travel to and from work. They run on the sidewalk, the teammates stretched out for city blocks; the line of runners form a ribbon of runners right up until the intersections; where large groups bunch up like too many concert goers attempting to squeeze through an entrance door; excited to see what is on the inside. Like cross country racehorses just before the Kentucky Derby these cc runners are all nervously running in place and wanting to be first to cross some ever-moving finish line somewhere off in the distance at the school yard. Some have their head on a swivel, nervously looking to and fro hoping and praying they will safely make it to the other side of our four lane busy streets.
And in the streets the cars keep on keeping on. Drivers seated behind steering wheels some paying attention to the runners and many not-so-much. Texting while driving is illegal, but then so is speeding and not paying attention while they drive. But we all know what it feels like to sit at a stop light and see drivers attention focused on their cell phones. They look up only when they sense the eyes of another driver riveted on them with a disapproving stare.
I have been a lawyer for over thirty-five years and have been personally involved in over two thousand cases. Allow me to tell you what goes on after you hit a pedestrian. First a lawsuit is filed after which written discovery is exchanged. In every case the parties are allowed to ask each other written questions. The answers are sworn answers, meaning they have similar weight as testimony given under oath. And in almost one hundred percent of all personal injury accidents I deal with at least one of those written questions wants to know the driver’s cell phone number, cell phone carrier and for the driver to state whether they were on their cell phone at the time of the collision, the moment when the pedestrian was struck, and in this instance killed. Then there is what we call a request for production. Requests for production are written instructions asking parties to produce documents. One of those documents the parties want drivers to produce are cell phone bills covering the date of the accident. That way we can all see the exact minutes the driver was on the phone and how many minutes the call lasted. We also get to know who was talking to the driver, which is as interesting as when. Because the “who”, will be a witness that can then be placed under oath and questioned about what was being talked about.
And if you ever want to hear meaningless talk put on display and compared with the risks of killing a pedestrian this is the place where it happens and is laid to bare.
Now I know nothing about the driver of this car or the pedestrian and certainly don’t mean to insinuate anyone was on the phone. But this accident and any accidents we discuss are important opportunities to openly discuss what we see that is wrong with the behavior or drivers that increases risks of injury to pedestrians and to other people using the roads. And this discussion about discovery is a warning about what follows after an accident and the lawsuit is filed. There is no hiding your use of a cell phone while driving and certainly you won’t be hiding texting.
So take heed and avoid texting and cell phone use while driving and while talking on your cell phone isn’t illegal, think about how this young ladies’ family feels and how you would feel about some trivial conversation that perhaps distracted you and ended up taking someone’s life. And this is an important point. Even if a runner is somehow found to be at fault the driver may have had the last clear chance to avoid hitting them. You can exercise that last clear chance if you aren’t paying attention.
As a trial lawyer who’s seen way too many death cases I can’t help but wonder why we aren’t doing more to stop distracted driving. But many would say I have just seen too much and am being overly sensitive. Maybe; but then again maybe not. If it were my child who was running, I would say, “no way”, find a field or go down to Raccoon River’s three-mile trail, where there is no motor traffic. And then you can run to your hearts content without wondering if the next driver is distracted. But that’s just the old coach in me, the one who worried about the players as if they were all my children.
Teen Dies in Fiery Car Accident
Jasper County, Iowa - A sixteen year old from Kellogg, died in a collision on June 8th. The accident occurred at North 83rd Avenue East and West 84th Street North when failed to stop while heading west. A truck, driven by Jarrod McDonald, collided with Trenton Brady’s car. The truck caught fire and McDonald was transported to a local hospital with injuries. Other passengers escaped unharmed. Brady was pronounced dead at the scene while his brother, also a teenager, was transported to Skiff Medical Center with injuries. [Trenton Brady]
What is not clear is who had the right-of-way and who did not. Was this intersection one with traffic control devices or one without? If without then knowing who has the right-of-way is important. I have previously written about uncontrolled intersections and who has the right of way. Much of it has to do with control of the intersection, meaning who was first to enter. In cases like this one where a driver dies the insurance adjusters will be quick to ask passengers to give statements. Those statements are critical in establishing blame. Passengers have a claim for personal injuries and must realize the adjusters are not your friend, even though they may be friendly. Adjusters want to minimize any claim, not just those of the drivers. So take heed and before giving any adjuster a recorded statement contact and obtain advice from an Iowa personal injury lawyer. Good luck with your insurance claims and if we can help give us a call or fill out the contact information form.
If you would like to read more here are five blogs for starters.
Ankeny Man Killed After Being Struck by Intoxicated Driver
Alexander Koch, a passenger in a Subaru driven by Zachary McMahon, was killed after being struck from behind by an alleged intoxicated driver in the early morning hours of June 10th. According to the report a 45-year-old man from Boone, allegedly was driving with a suspended license and was may have been driving under the influence of alcohol (intoxicated?) at the time of the accident. According the report, the driver left the scene of the accident on foot but was quickly apprehended. McMahon, the driver of the Subaru, was injured in the accident.
We make no assumptions about the sobriety of the driver because determining intoxication and/or driving while under the influence is a multi-faceted chemical evaluation process and cannot be determined right at an accident scene.
According to the KCCI report: “Ankeny officials said William Phipps, 45, of Boone, fled the scene on foot, but was later apprehended by officers half a mile from the scene of the accident.
Phipps' driving records indicate he was barred from driving and had two previous drunk-driving charges. Phipps was taken into custody by Ankeny police officers and faces several charges, including vehicular homicide, OWI 3rd offense, driving while barred and leaving the scene of an accident.”
Man Killed in Guthrie County Accident
Robert Core, 69, died in a single vehicle accident in Guthrie County on June 10th at around 3:17 pm. Core was driving his 2003 Buick LeSabre north on Frontier Road, which was closed for road work. Core hit gravel and spun his vehicle into a ditch. He was transported by helicopter to Methodist Medical Center where he died due to injuries he sustained in the crash.
When I read news items like this I assume that I see things differently than most people. I see facts as an important part of some bigger picture, one painted with strokes from a paint brush that evaluates fault, negligence and causation. In my mind the facts, as reported, do not hastily draw conclusions, but instead point me in directions of where to look further. Ultimately what I’m after is what caused the accident or contributed to causing the accident that lead to a death.
Some of us may jump to conclusions about why this driver was killed. We may point to the road closure, a work site or even his age. But lawyers are schooled in the law. We must focus first on the law and then on facts that point us in one direction or another. A keener understanding of the law makes us want to know more. Like more about the warning signs and the gravel on the road, the driver and his car or truck; before jumping to any conclusions. Accident investigation is an essential part of knowing what caused a loss of control and the accident. Because an “accident” as most people know it is really not an accident but a series of events that lead to a collision. The lawyer wants to understand the series of events before he or she can conclude they understand how the person died. To the untrained eye simple is the answer and for the lawyer that is probably not likely to lead one to understand the events that lead to the accident and eventual death.
We may never know all the events leading to the car’s loss of control once on the gravel, but we can come close when we evaluate as many facts that are knowable as can be determined through a proper investigation.
Man Killed in Motorcycle Crash in Tama County
Vincent Hamilton, 55, was riding his Harley-Davidson motorcycle eastbound on Highway 30 near 330th street at around 5 pm on June 11th. According to the news report he failed to maintain control of the bike while negotiating a curve and drove off the road. Hamilton died from his injuries at the site of the crash.
Driver Fleeing Accident Scene Dies
Kyle Joseph Solomon, 24, was driving his Ford Taurus through the intersection of Woodbury and Harry Langdon Boulevard when he struck a police officer’s vehicle at around 8 pm on June 11th. Solomon then continued northbound on Woodbury at a high speed before losing control of his vehicle near 16th Avenue and Harry Langdon Boulevard. He struck several vehicles before being ejected from his car. He died at the scene.
Two Die in Three Vehicle Collision
A crash in Denison on June 12th took the lives of two and injured three others. Robbie Reed McMullen, 22, and Emiliano Fernando Ramos, 19, were both killed, and neither had been wearing their safety belts. The accident occurred on Highway 39 in Denison when McMullen passed Dawn Jessen on the left at a high rate of speed. As he passed, both McMullen and Fred Hall, the driver of a third vehicle, both swerved off and back onto the road. McMullen lost control and went sideways, striking both Hall and Jessen in the process. McMullen died at the scene and Ramos was transported to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead. Three others were injured in the collision.
In this accident we have what appears to be a driver making an extremely risky passing maneuver at a very high rate of speed. Combine the two and you have a recipe for disaster. As a personal injury lawyer the thing that catches my eye following a terrible accident like this one would be insurance coverage or in this casea, probably not enough insurance coverage. You have to first ask, how much and how many people to divide it between. In this case that is a likely problem and it’s where the rubber will meet the road in the lawsuit. Too many injured people and not enough insurance coverage to go around. In the end those who are severely injured or killed will have to rely on their own insurance coverage which places them at odds with their own auto insurance companies. And that means those injured have to hire a lawyer to get your own insurer to pay fair compensation. A word to the wise would be to not naively assume your insurer is on your side because frankly you are not in good hands and your insurer is not your good neighbor. Their interests are much different than you own.
According to the website Siouxland Matters, “Two dead and at least three injured in a fatal head-on collision in Crawford County, in Denison.
A VW Beetle tried to pass a Chrysler PT Cruiser on Highway 39 when it collided head-on with a Chevy S10 truck in the opposing lane. The two cars struck the Chrysler PT Cruiser after colliding.
The driver of the VW Beetle, Robbie Reed McMullen, 22, and Emiliano Fernando Ramos, 19 were killed in the accident.
Luis Enrique Mendez-18, Fred Edward Hall-43, and Dawn Ranae Jessen-62 were all injured in the crash.”
To read more visit these news sources:
Man Dies When ATV Collides with Truck
Keith L. Devilbiss, 78, died when his ATV collided with a Ford F-150 in Rippey on June 15th. Devilbiss failed to yield the right of way while traveling through the intersection of Second and Howard Streets. His ATV struck a Ford F-150 driven by Nicholas Rice. Devilbiss died at the scene of the accident.
The operative words in this news investigative report would be “His ATV struck a Ford F-150”. Note who struck who. Is that true? One has no way of knowing until they independently investigate.
Burlington Man Dies After Striking Deer
Jason M. Robinson, 28, of Burlington was traveling north on Highway 61 in his Chevy Impala on June 16th when he struck a deer in the roadway near the intersection of J Avenue and Highway 61. Robinson’s car flipped before landing in a nearby ditch and Robinson was pronounced dead at the scene.
I wouldn’t think hitting a deer would cause a Chevy Impala to flip, and so it appears as though further investigation would be necessary before drawing such a conclusion. It is more likely that moments before or after colliding with the deer the driver caused the car to turn or to swerve and that caused the car to flip.
Nevertheless, this is a tragedy. What we can learn from would be what drivers should do before encountering a deer in the roadway. I once read about what emergency room doctors were telling drivers in Maine who encountered moose on the highways. They said plow right into them, don’t attempt to swerve to avoid them. Just take them out because most driver fatalities coming into the ER had to do with driver’s losing control while attempting to avoid a moose. The same is probably good advice for Iowa’s deer vs car accidents. Don’t try to avoid them, it’s not worth the risk, instead just hit them and let your car insurance company pay for the damage.
Man Dies in Mason City Motorcycle Collision
Greg Hodak, 51, died in a motorcycle collision in North Iowa on June 17th. 74-year-old Susan Pierce was turning left at the intersection of North Pierce Avenue and 8th Street NW when Hodak collided with her. Hodak, who was riding a motorcycle, was taken to Mercy Medical Center where he died from injuries he sustained in the accident. Pierce was treated at the scene for her injuries.
There is not much to write about this one accident. Negligence and fault will come down to line of sight of the driver and what appears to be her turning before the roadway is clear. Motorcycles may be harder to see than semi-trucks but that doesn’t excuse drivers with poor eyesight from giving up their driver’s licenses. And in this case that is a likely scenario that will play out in a wrongful death lawsuit.
Four Injured in Suspected Drunk Driving Crash
Drunk driving is suspected in a crash that injured four on June 18th in Shelby County. The accident occurred around 10:50 pm when a truck driven by Joshua Edgecomb, 27, was thought to have crossed the center line and struck three southbound vehicles on Highway 59. Troy Fudge of Corning, Rachelle Brown of Omaha, and Scott Brown, also of Omaha, were in the oncoming car that was struck. Joshua Edgecomb, his passenger Timmy Edgecomb, Rachelle Brown, and a youngster were transported to a nearby hospital with injuries.
The most salient fact is underlined in the news item above. Anytime someone crosses the center line they are THE MOST likely driver to be assigned fault. Because crossing the center line is the riskiest of driver actions. Take a moment and think about it. You cross over the center line and into the opposing lane with traffic traveling as fast as you but in the opposite direction. Sixty miles per hour turns into 120 miles per hour at the moment of the collision. This is a terrible accident with lives changed on both sides of the collision. The venue is likely to be in Shelby County, Iowa.
Motorcyclists Killed in Des Moines Crash After Fleeing Police
Vincent Quang, 25, of Des Moines, was riding his motorcycle when police attempted to pull him over near 14th and High Streets on June 18th. Initially Quang pulled into a convenience store but then immediately left the parking lot and proceeded at a high rate of speed. Police chose not to pursue Quang, due to his rate of speed. Quang crashed his motorcycle at the intersection of 7th and High Street. Quang died at the scene of the crash.
One Killed in Head-On Collision in Carroll County
Sue Vaughan, 72, was driving northbound on Delta Avenue near Manning around 9:00 a.m., June 20th when she veered across the center line in her minivan and struck a truck driven by Elroy Huisenga, 71, of Wall Lake, Iowa. Vaughan died at the scene of the accident and Huisenga was transported to Manning Regional Hospital with injuries he sustained in the accident.
Accident Claims the Life of Kansas Man
Dorran Wehr, 20, of Overland Park, Kanses, was killed in an accident on I-35 in Decatur County on June 20th. Wehr, traveling southbound, crossed over the median where he was struck by a vehicle driven by Larry Moores, 41, of Clutier. Wehr, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was transported to the hospital and pronounced dead.
Man Dies in I-35 Crash Near Des Moines
Shawn David Ballard, 51, died in a multi-car collision on I-35 just south of Des Moines around 6:15 pm on June 23rd. Ballard’s vehicle and another vehicle both crossed from the southbound lanes to the northbound lanes in a construction area. Ballard and the other vehicle, driven by Benjamin Vidales, were both struck head-on by a tractor trailer. The construction area is under investigation. Another major accident occurred near this location several weeks ago.
Teenager Killed in ATV Accident
Delaware County, Iowa - Anna Nefzger, 13, was riding an ATV in rural Manchester on the evening of June 24th when a malfunction occurred on the ATV. Family members reported that she landed in a ditch and was pinned under the ATV, where she died. Anna’s family reported that she was a farm girl and used to riding ATV’s and farm equipment.
This is the second ATV accident resulting in a death this month. We’ve written previously about the Devilbiss ATV accident in Rippey, Iowa. In this case I have to wonder what the “malfunction” was about. The news article described the malfunction in this way, “Anna's family says she grew up around farm equipment. She even knew how to drive big combines and tractors, but something went wrong with the ATV. "When she crossed the road, there's a little nut on the front end that turned loose on the mule, and unfortunately it let the wheel turn in, she couldn't control the steering on it," Randy said.”
I wonder if this is a manufacturer’s defect subject to a recall or if it be a maintenance issue? One may never know although a mechanical engineer’s inspection would likely come close to answering this question. I re-read the KWWL news article and watched the video, but the year, make and model of the ATV was not provided. That would have allowed a search on the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website for any possible recall. When I find recalls associated with farm equipment I try to report on them for the sake of farm safety.
You may wonder why I am writing about this accident and the answer lies in safety and in saving other lives. ATV’s are a popular way of farm transportation for working around the fields. AG-law accidents are one of our practice areas. This news item can help other farmers who use the same equipment and other lawyers who might encounter the same types of accidents. Our reporting also gets the attention of the manufacturers who are responsible for making and selling safe ATV’s. And then lastly we like reporters to know what facts to report and why. Because reports that fail to indicate the year of manufacture, the make and the model of the ATV are missing out on perhaps a bigger story that will undoubtedly save lives.
Female Bicyclist Killed During Charity Ride
Lisa Kuhn, 40, was riding her bicycle at around 9:30 a.m., June 25th, on Davis Avenue in West Liberty as part of a fundraiser for pancreatic cancer. Ryan McKillip, 28, was also traveling southbound on Davis Avenue and struck Kuhn. Kuhn was transported to University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics where she succumbed to her injuries. This accident is currently under investigation.
One Killed in Millville Rollover Accident
Jimmy Hansel, 66, was traveling southbound on Highway 52 on June 25th at around 12:50 pm when he attempted to avoid traffic that had stopped ahead of him. He swerved and hit a ditch, overturning his motorcycle. Emergency personnel transported him to Guttenburg Hospital where he was pronounced dead from his injuries.
Man Dies in Rock Rapids Crash
Bradley Schneidermann, 46, died in a crash that occurred in Rock Rapids at around 4:23 pm, June 25th. Schneidermann was a passenger in a pickup truck driven by 14-year-old Ryan Schneidermann of Inwood. Ryan stated that he was tired after having worked outside all day and, while driving westbound on Highway 9, veered across the road, went into a ditch, and then rolled into a field before returning to the ditch. Bradley Schneidermann died from injuries he sustained in the accident, and Ryan Schneidermann was transported to Sanford Rock Rapids Hospital with injuries.
7 fatal crashes over weekend; overall fatal crashes up for 2016
Some 170 people have been killed on Iowa roads so far this year, much higher than the five-year average of 140. Statistics were released today showing 42 more deaths on Iowa roads than during the same period last year. Seven of the fatal crashes were reported last weekend, State Patrol spokesman Sgt. Nathan Ludwig said. Read more
If you are involved with an insurance claim because of a car, truck, motorcycle, ATV, bicycle or as a pedestrian call the Lombardi Law Firm for assistance. Iowa