Jury will decide where fault lies in fatal crash two years ago


Published: Tuesday, September 1, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, August 31, 2009 at 10:42 p.m.

An Alachua County jury will decide if a truck driver, killed in a fiery crash on Interstate 75 in Alachua County two years ago, was negligent in the wreck or if the actions of other motorists and officers who closed a section of the road contributed to the accident.

Attorneys made opening statements in the case at the Alachua County civil courthouse Monday afternoon.

Steven R. Bogue died in the wreck, one of a series of collisions that day that claimed two lives, injured more than a dozen people and shut down the highway for hours on Oct. 12, 2007.

Traffic on southbound I-75 had been detoured off the road at the U.S. 441 exit because of a fatal crash earlier that morning closer to Gainesville, according to attorneys and officers' reports. Bogue was driving south when he came up on traffic that was slowing or stopped for the detour and slammed into the back of another truck. The impact forced the other truck forward and into a commuter van carrying employees headed from Lake City to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Gainesville.

One of the women in the van, Claudette DeRossett, and her husband filed the lawsuit naming Fl Transportation Inc. as the defendant. Bogue had been dispatched out of the company's Frito-Lay Orlando Traffic Center to drive a route from Central Florida to Georgia and back.

Witnesses reported Bogue didn't slow down or put on the brakes as he approached the other vehicles detouring off the interstate, said DeRossett's attorney, Robert Spohrer, in opening statements.

Bogue was traveling just under 70 mph when the collision occurred, according to attorneys.

But while Spohrer painted a picture for jurors that Bogue apparently didn't look where he was going and was responsible for the wreck, an attorney for the company said there were other pieces to the puzzle and a combination of errors that led to the crash.

"He was confronted by something you don't expect and that was a stopped tractor-trailer in the through lane," said attorney Penny Schmidt.

Jurors should consider the earlier crash that started the series of events, Schmidt said. And there were other factors, she said, including the decision by the Florida Highway Patrol to shut down the road, the actions of the Alachua Police Department and whether they provided advance warning to motorists about the detour, the slow speed of the commuter van on the interstate and how the truck Bogue hit was forced to come to a complete stop but had no flashers on.

The trial is scheduled to last about nine days.

Spohrer said jurors in this trial will only be asked to consider if Bogue was negligent and if that negligence was the legal cause of the crash. Another trial would deal with possible damages for DeRossett who, according to court records, received permanent bodily injury and traumatic brain injury in the wreck.

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