Coal Firm Is Sued For Fatal Crash; Widow's Suit Says Coal Truck Overloaded

INEZ—The widow of a Martin County minister killed in March by an over-loaded coal truck while the General Assembly debated a heavy-truck bill has sued the coal company that loaded the truck, as well as the vehicle’s owner and driver.

The goal of the suit, filed Tuesday in Martin Circuit Court, is to make coal companies—not just truckers—pay for violating Kentucky’s weight laws, said Doris Preece’s attorney, John Kirk of Paintsville.

“It’s analogous to Kentucky’s dram-shop act where a bar sends a customer out onto our highways in a dangerous condition,” Kirk said. “Somebody’s got to pay.”
After the March 7 crash, the Kentucky Department of Vehicle Enforcement, which until recently issued overweight tickets solely to drivers, also cited the coal company for “overloading” the truck, the suit said.

Named as defendants are Appalachian Fuels LLC of Ashland, truck owner Robert D. Hall and driver Charles Wiley, both of Inez.

Appalachian Fuels official Frank Van Dyke said yesterday the company had anticipated legal action, but said he had not seen the suit.

Wiley was transporting coal from Appalachian Fuel in Pike County to loading docks on the Big Sandy River near Catlettsburg.

The lawsuit said another truck hauling for Appalachian Fuels in Magoffin County also received an overweight ticket on the same day. “They do this hundreds of times a day,” Kirk said, “and Lonnie Preece paid for it with his life.”
Kirk said Hall’s 1999 Western Star tractor had defective brakes and weighed 150,150 pounds while traveling on a narrow, two-lane highway with a weight limit of 62,000 pounds. “It was a disaster waiting to happen,” Kirk said.

Lonnie Preece, 55, who had retired from Martin County Coal Corp. a year ago, was pastor of the Bethel United Baptist Church near Inez. Shortly before the crash, he had dropped off his family’s garbage at a transfer station west of Inez and was eastbound on Ky. 40, about a mile from home, the lawsuit said.

Police reports indicate that neither driver was speeding. But when two vehicles stopped in front of Wiley’s truck, he was unable to stop, and he swerved left into the path of Preece’s pickup.

The lawsuit said the minister’s widow, Doris Preece, now muses, “If only the ‘Hall’ truck had been loaded ‘legal’ … it could have stopped.”
Now, the suit says, she thinks about the crash and her husband’s suffering “and she cries. Cries. Cries. She is lonely. Mrs. Preece—although blessed with children and grand-children—is lonely. Lonely. Lonely. Lonely for her good and caring and loving husband, lonely for the light of her life.” The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

In the wake of the crash, House Bill 8 failed in Frankfort. It would have given haulers of sand, gravel and other taxable resources the same 1986 exemption that permits coal trucks to haul 60 tons while others are limited to 40 tons. The defeat left in limbo a Pike County lawsuit filed by D.R.T. Trucking, which questions the constitutionality of special weight limits for coal.

Pike Circuit Judge Eddy Coleman, who put D.R.T.’s suit on hold pending the outcome of the bill, said yesterday that suit has been idle since the General Assembly adjourned. No motions have been filed in it and no hearings are set, he said, “If I don’t hear anything within a reasonable period of time, I might set it for a status conference,” he said.
Categories: Personal Injury

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