Sherman, Texas Bus Accident – A Look Back

Sherman, Texas Bus Accident – A Look BackIn early August of 2008, a horrific bus accident that killed 17 people, and injured dozens more, occurred in the city of Sherman, Texas. The aftermath of the crash has left many citizens of Sherman, as well as family members of the crash victims, scarred and emotionally traumatized. However, the violations that were present in the incident have shed light on multiple safety issues in buses. For a look back at the accident and the lasting impact it’s had, read on:

 

A Brief Recap of the Crash

 

The crash of the bus happened on August 8th, 2008 at 12:45 AM. The bus was a privately charted bus that was carrying 55 people, most of them members of the Vietnamese Martyrs’ Church, Our Lady of Lavang, and Our Lady of Lourdes from Houston, Texas. When the driver lost control of the bus, it ran off of U.S. Route 75 and skidded along a guardrail, where it then slid off the highway entirely while on its side. Twelve people were immediately confirmed dead at the scene, and five others died from related injuries in the following hours and days. The bus was not licensed to operate, was not equipped with seatbelts, and it is believed that a defective tire contributed to the crash.

 

The Impact of the Crash on Victims

 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) concluded that the cause of the crash was the puncturing of a retreaded tire, according to a 2011 article published in the Dallas News. While the NHTSA stated that the retreading itself wasn’t the cause, the tire was fixed to the front axle illegally. As a result, 11 individuals and companies involved in the crash—including those responsible for the illegal fastening of the tire and the retreaded tire—were sued by families of the victims in 2011. Those alleged liable parties agreed to out of court settlements. Motor Coach Industries, the manufacturer of the bus, was also one of the 11 companies that families of the victims pursued, and were successful, to collect damages from.

 

Future Actions

 

The fact that there were no seatbelts in the bus has raised concerns about the safety of buses in the future, and has encouraged many bus companies to install seatbelts. Seatbelts are crucial to saving lives in the event of a collision, particularly a rollover accident, and are relatively inexpensive to install. While no mandatory seatbelt laws are currently in place for buses, the bus accident has caused many in the state to demand the installation of both seatbelts and safety glass in highway coaches and buses, with hopes that a tragedy such as this can be prevented in the future.

Attorney Christopher Rehmet On Giving Aliens Driver’s Licenses and Uninsured Motorists In Texas

A debate is taking place in the Texas legislature about providing illegal aliens the right to a driver’s license.  Many representatives believe giving undocumented immigrants the right to drive will actually reduce the number of uninsured motorists on the road, because proof of insurance is required before a driver’s license is issued.  They argue that illegal aliens cannot currently purchase auto insurance because most insurance companies in the state of Texas require that you have a driver’s license before they will issue a policy, but Texas law prohibits undocumented immigrants from obtaining that driver’s license.  Some Texas lawmakers feel that it is better to give these aliensuninsured motorist driver’s licenses so that they can get insurance than to have them driving around without insurance unable to compensate citizens who they might hit.     The problem with this argument has to do with permissive user exclusions or “restricted” insurance policies.  These are the cheapest auto policies sold in the state.  Many undocumented immigrants will buy these cheap policies.

 

The permissive user exclusion has become a large hole in our auto insurance law that allows people to skirt the mandatory insurance requirement.  Since 2003, Texas allows insurance companies to approach the Texas Department of Insurance with alternative language which is different from the standard Texas Personal Auto Policy and ask for permission to sell the alternative policies.  Insurance companies are now writing alternative policy language covering less than the Texas Personal Auto Policy.  One way the auto insurance companies reduce their coverage is through the use of permissive user exclusions.  The definition of a covered person is changed from something similar to “you and anyone related to you by blood or marriage who resides in your home” to something similar to “you, but not any of your family members”.   The insurance company charges lower premium payments in exchange for the reduced coverage, and it is a cheap policy to buy.

 

There are several problems with alternative policies containing permissive driver exclusions.  The most obvious problem is that family members are the people most likely to borrow the car, and under this altered automobile policy, they are no longer covered if they drive the vehicle listed the policy.  There are, therefore,  a lot more uninsured drivers on the road now than before 2003.  Moreover, the permissive use exclusion allows uninsured family members to drive without being caught.  This happens because the insurance card issued by the insurance company looks the same whether the policy is a Texas Personal Auto Policy which covers any person driving the vehicle, or one containing a permissive use exclusion, which does not cover.  The police can’t tell the difference.  People who are hit by a family member who is not covered won’t find out until their claim is denied by the insurance company, because law enforcement has no idea the driver is not covered on that policy at the scene of the collision.  The uninsured driver will most likely never even get a ticket.

 

Another problem with alternative policies has to with copyright law.  Many of the insurance companies copyright the alternative policy language before submitting it to the Texas Department of Insurance.  As a result, no one can read the alternative policy to find out what might or might not be covered.  The Texas Department of Insurance won’t copy the policy because copyright law forbids the dissemination of the policy language.   If you are unfortunately hit by someone who is not covered, it is impossible to get the policy language to verify coverage without filing a law suit.  The Texas Department of Insurance will make the policy available at their office, but will not make any means of copying available.

 

In 2005, the Texas Comptroller estimated 1,400,000 undocumented immigrants resided in the State of Texas.  If these people are allowed driver’s licenses, most will probably buy the cheaper alternative policy. Because of the driver restrictions, the number of undetected uninsured motorists will sky rocket.  Law abiding citizens will be left with no recourse and no way to verify the terms of the undocumented driver’s insurance coverage.

 

If the legislature decides to allow undocumented immigrants the privilege to drive, then the immigrant should be required to buy insurance that covers their car, regardless of who is driving it.  There is no doubt the car will most likely be loaned to others who have licenses but no longer own a car, or have let their insurance lapse.

Attorney Chris Rehmet On the Wrongful Death of Deputy Chad Key By Repeat DWI Offender

Last week’s blog, entitled Personal Injury, Drunk Driving and Repeat Offenders, focused a statistic kept by MADD (Mother’s Against Drunk Driving) concerning DWI and repeat offenders. MADD tells us that the average drunk driver drives under the influence 80 times before they are arrested once. This statistic is scary, because it means that the average drunk has endangered a large number of people by driving under the influence repeatedly before they are caught.

 

Tragically, this statistic played out in Grayson County last Saturday drunk drivernight, when Ricky Trent Stanley, Jr., hit and killed Grayson County Sheriff Deputy Chad Christian Key when Stanley was allegedly under the influence of alcohol.  Stanley was free on bond stemming from an August 2012 arrest for DWI – 3rd at the time he killed Deputy Key. Stanley has been convicted of DWI two times, once in 2002 and again in 2004, according to WFAA.

 

I am not a statistician, but if the number of times Mr. Stanley has been caught driving under the influence (4) is multiplied by the MADD statistic (80), then Mr. Stanley has most likely driven under the influence something like 320 times. Mr. Stanley resides in Whitesboro or the Sherman area when he’s not living in the county jail, or a prison. I hope he stays incarcerated for a long time, because incarceration may be the only way to make sure he’s not driving under the influence on the same roads as my family, friends, and fellow community members.

 

Mr. Stanley has little control over his life at this point. By choosing to repeatedly drive under the influence, he has given up his freedom. He is currently incarcerated in a county jail other than Grayson County, because the Grayson County Sheriff fears for Mr. Stanley’s safety if he remains in the local jail. According to the Grayson County Jail Records, it appears Stanley is being investigated for murder, intoxication manslaughter, and his bond for DWI-3rd has been revoked. If convicted of these charges, Mr. Stanley will most likely be sentenced to a lengthy stay in prison. Mr. Stanley is currently 28 years of age.

 

Mr. Stanley has given up more than his ability to live in the community. He has civil liability to the family of Deputy Key. Deputy Key was married and had three children. Deputy Key’s parents are both still living. The fact is, Mr. Stanley was negligent (careless) when he drove under the influence. Beyond being careless, Chad Keyhe was reckless. He understood the risks of DWI, yet he chose to drive under the influence anyway. The law calls this gross negligence. Mr. Stanley’s negligence and gross negligence caused the death of Deputy Key. Mr. Stanley is, therefore, liable for Deputy Key’s death including all of Deputy Key’s medical bills, physical pain, mental anguish, and funeral expenses. Mr. Stanley is liable to Mr. Key’s surviving parents who must bury their son.  He is liable to a wife left alone.  He is liable to Deputy Key’s children who lost a father. Mr. Stanley is also liable for punitive damages, which are damages calculated to punish Mr. Stanley for acting in such a stupid and reckless fashion.

 

To make matters worse, Deputy Key was a widower. According to his obituary, his first wife, Andrea, passed away in December of 2004. Andrea was the mother of Deputy Key’s first two children, one of whom is twenty years old, and the other is ten years of age. These children are now without a mother or a father. Deputy Key later remarried and has a small baby who is just several months old. Mr. Stanley has left the two older children orphaned, and the youngest without ever knowing his father.
 
What does Mr. Stanley owe these people for what he has done to them?

 

The losses are large. Personally, I hope Mr. Stanley is sued, and a district court in Grayson County enters a large judgment against Mr. Stanley which accounts for all of the loss he has inflicted upon Deputy Key and his family. Judgments for damages caused by drunk driving cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.  Should Mr. Stanley ever get out of prison, his liability to the Key family should be waiting for him.

 

There is no amount of money that will bring Deputy Key back to his family. No judgment will ease their suffering. Even still, Mr. Stanley deserves to be held accountable for the devastation he has caused to this family.

 

My thoughts and prayers are with the family of Deputy Chad Key.

Lawyer Chris Rehmet Discusses Drunk Driving Accidents, Personal Injuries, and Repeat Offenders

 

               As an attorney handling personal injury matters, I see firsthand the many different ways people are hurt or killed.  Perhaps the most senseless are accidents caused by DWI.  We all know drunk driving is dangerous, and is easily preventable.   Most of us have a sense of outrage when we hear about a death or injury caused by a drunk driver, because the drunk driver makes a conscious decision to endanger everyone else on the road.  Our outrage is heightened when a drunk driver repeatedly drives drunk.  

 

               MADD (Mother’s Against Drunk Driving) keeps statistics about drunk driving.  They find the average drunk driver drives under the influence 80 times before their first arrest.  This statistic is hard to believe, but I think it is valid.   In all likelihood, drunk driving is frequently repeated by the offender.  This pattern starts when a person drives home under the influence one time, and manages to get home without being arrested or involved in a wreck.  They begin to falsely believe they can get home safely.  The next time they are under the influence, they drive home again without a bad consequence.  After a few times, drunk driving becomes permissible in the mind of the individual.    

 

               In reality, the odds of being involved in a wreck are greatly magnified when anyone is DWI.  If the drunk driver is involved in a wreck, then the results can be devastating.  Innocent people often become the victims. 

 

               Julio Acevedo is a prime example of a repeat offender.  Mr. Acevedo was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol in February of this year.  The arresting officer who pulled Mr. Acevedo over for driving erratically found him to be intoxicated.  Despite this arrest, Mr. Acevedo again drove under the influence in early in March.  Unfortunately, this time he failed to see a taxi cab, and smashed into it at a high rate of speed.  The force of the collision tore into the passenger compartment of the cab, killing a young married couple in the back seat.  They were both 21 years of age, and both died at the scene of the collision. 

Drunk Driving Injuries

 

               This crash obtained a spotlight in the national press because the female occupant of the cab was six months pregnant.  The emergency room doctors miraculously delivered the baby from the womb of his deceased mother.  Sadly, the baby died shortly thereafter.      

 

               When a drunk driver says they have only driven under the influence on the one occasion where they were actually caught they are probably lying.  Whenever we have a client who is hit by a drunk driver, we investigate the drunk driver’s criminal history as well as their driving record.  We typically file a law suit against the drunk driver and take his or her deposition.  In the majority of cases, the drunk driver has prior arrests. 

 

               We all need to think about our behavior.  If we think we can get home after drinking just because we have done so before, then we need to change our thinking.  The risks are just too high.