A $62.7-million settlement was reached this week in a civil court suit brought by the relatives of eight victims of a horrendous crash in Oklahoma caused by an Associated Wholesale Grocers (AWG) driver. Defendants AWG and driver Donald Creed, who was 76 years old at the time of the crash, are responsible for $62 million of the settlement, said AWG attorney Jim Secrest. The remaining $700,000 was agreed to by two drivers who were involved in a minor traffic accident that preceded the crash.
“It was horrific, you can’t possibly overemphasize the impact [of the situation that day],” Secrest told Fleet Owner. “These people, the victims in this, had no warning, no nothing.”
In all, 10 persons were killed and five more injured by the accident. AWG and Creed had previously reached a settlement with family members of the other two persons killed.
“Money is just money,” attorney Preston Trimble, who represented the families, told the Tulsa World. “We have grandparents, parents and lost brothers and mothers in this. It's hard to equate with money. ... It’s like you have a loved one missing in action whose body is recovered and returned home. It’s a kind of closing.”
Creed, who pleaded guilty to 10 counts of negligent homicide, a misdemeanor in Oklahoma, in a plea deal, was sentenced to a year of probation on each count. He must serve 30 days in a county jail and wear an electronic monitoring device in his first year of probation. He is also barred from obtaining a commercial driver’s license.
AWG attorney Secrest added that the settlement, which occurred one day before a jury trial was set to begin, was the right thing for AWG and Creed to do.
“These people were totally innocent,” he said. “We are sorry and there was no reason for us to make those family members go through a trial.”
AWG is a retailer-owned grocery cooperative based in Kansas City, KS, that serves 1,900 members. Secrest said the company was facing an additional claim of independent negligence for allowing Creed on the road. The company was prepared to fight that claim, he said, adding that AWG had “state-of-the-art” equipment in the truck and that witnesses who had seen Creed throughout his shift would have testified that Creed appeared “normal” that day.
“To this moment, we know what happened, but we don’t know why,” Secrest said. “This guy [Creed] had five-million miles without one personal injury accident.”
Secrest said that AWG’s fatigue management program was not as strong as it could have been. The company has improved the program since the accident, he said.
“It was not as intense as it should have been and I think AWG acknowledged that,” Secrest said.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the cause of the crash was the result of Creed’s fatigue due to acute sleep loss, mild sleep apnea and circadian disruption associated with his shift schedule.
Creed had just returned from a vacation and was still adjusting to the shift, which began shortly after 3 a.m., NTSB said. The Board said that Creed never reacted to the backup of traffic due to an earlier accident along Interstate 44 near Miami, OK. Creed drove his truck, traveling at 69 mph in a 75-mph zone, into the back of a stopped sport utility vehicle. The truck continued forward and hit three additional vehicles, pushing the third vehicle into the rear of a livestock trailer being towed by a pickup truck. That vehicle then collided with yet another vehicle.
The accident occurred at 1:19 p.m., roughly 10 hours after Creed had started his shift. NTSB said that Creed failed to apply brakes or take any evasive measures before the collision.
NTSB’s report cited the lack of updated and comprehensive fatigue education materials and programs along with a lack of federal requirements for data and vehicle event recorders and forward collision warning systems on commercial vehicles as contributing factors.
“This crash points out the need for three important actions by federal regulators that would go a long way to reducing this type of accident on our roadways: a fatigue management system would have helped the driver get the rest he needed to perform well behind the wheel, event recorders would have provided our investigators with the details about the crash once it occurred, and a collision warning system would have significantly reduced the likelihood that this accident could have ever happened,” said NTSB chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. “The time to act on all three of these safety fundamentals is now so that this kind of horrific tragedy will not occur again.”
NTSB also has called upon FMCSA to require all heavy commercial vehicles to be equipped with video event recorders, to improve its fatigue educational materials and to require all motor carriers to adopt a fatigue management program based on the North American Fatigue Management Program.