NORTH PLATTE, Neb. — A man charged with motor vehicle homicide is one of four defendants listed in a wrongful death lawsuit that stems from a wreck in July on Interstate 80 west of Brule.
Kathrynn Pals and Gordon Engel are suing Tony Weekly Jr., Bohren Logistics, Interstate Highway Construction Inc. and D.P. Sawyer Inc., accusing them of negligence and carelessness in the death of Pals' son Jamison Pals and Engel's daughter Kathryne Pals, along with the couple's three children, Violet, Ezra and Calvin, all of St. Paul, Minnesota.
The family was killed in the middle of a construction zone that had slowed traffic.
According to an accident report, Weekly, a Florida truck driver, was westbound when he entered the construction zone. The accident report states that authorities believe Weekly was "inattentive and distracted by an outside influence" and failed to slow down or stop despite several vehicles in front of him that had either stopped or were coming to a stop.
His truck, going 50 mph, collided with the minivan the Pals family was in, causing a "chain reaction," according to the accident report. The minivan struck a vehicle, which struck another minivan. The third and fourth vehicles came to rest in the median, while the Pals' van and Weekly's semi stopped in the roadway and burst into flames, according to the report.
"The young parents and their children became trapped in their van, having survived the initial accident. They could not escape," the lawsuit states. "All five died in the van from smoke inhalation" and "experienced pain and suffering including fear and apprehension of impending death."
The lawsuit claims that Weekly's negligent inattentiveness was a contributing factor to the deaths of the Pals family.
A sixth victim, Terry Sullivan of Denver, died later at a hospital. Sullivan was driving the second minivan.
In October, Weekly pleaded not guilty to six felony counts of motor vehicle homicide and one misdemeanor reckless driving charge.
When the wreck occurred, Weekly was driving for Indiana-based trucking company Bohren Logistics. According to the lawsuit, a "reasonable and ordinarily prudent employer" would not have hired Weekly after learning of his driving record.
The lawsuit says Weekly had been involved in at least seven wrecks and had been convicted of a number of driving violations.
Bohren Logistics and Weekly are being represented by Terry Waite of North Platte in the civil case.
Waite called the wreck a "terrible tragedy," and said on behalf of both defendants that their hearts go out to the Pals' family and friends.
Interstate Highway Construction Inc. was the general contractor for the Big Springs Brule project. D.P. Sawyer Inc. was a subcontractor.
The lawsuit says that there was no sign warning drivers that they might need to stop, a situation that the suit says led to at least 18 previous wrecks in the area.
The lawsuit says the companies should have changed traffic-control procedures once they observed that wrecks had been occurring.
Court documents do not list attorneys for IHC or D.P. Sawyer, and neither company returned requests for comment.
The attorneys representing the Pals family also did not return requests for comment.