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Archive for Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Trial to open in party bus accident

Jury selection will start in the civil case that stemmed from the accident.

July 6, 2010

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It was billed as a day 10 lucky Kansas State University fans would never forget, a chance to ride the Cat Tracker fan bus from Manhattan to Lawrence to watch the Wildcats take on the Jayhawks in the Sunflower Showdown on Nov. 18, 2006.

The package sold at an auction benefiting the Kansas State Athletic Department for $5,000, promising K-State fans a chance to “write your own chapter in the history of the infamous Cat Tracker.”

Participants had no idea how infamous that trip would become.

The day ended in tragedy, when, overloaded with 22 passengers — including six children ages 7 to 16 — the modified double-decker fan bus, heading north on Iowa Street on its way to the stadium, drove under the Irving Hill Road overpass with eight passengers standing on the upper deck. The Cat Tracker was designed to hold 14 passengers and a driver.

According to court documents, four passengers standing near the front railing of the upper deck ducked at the last second when they saw the bridge, which has a posted height of 15 feet. Police reports estimate the bus, which was captured on KU surveillance video, was traveling at speeds of up to 40 mph.

Those passengers standing at the back of the bus never saw the overpass coming.

Shawnee resident John Green, 27, was killed instantly.

Christian Orr, then 34, of Salina, suffered debilitating injuries when his head slammed into the bridge.

Another man escaped death or injury by fate; he had bent down to cup a cigar he was trying to light just as the bus approached the overpass.

Families of the two victims filed a civil lawsuit in Douglas County District Court in 2007, claiming the driver, the owners and operators of the Cat Tracker were negligent for allowing people to stand on the upper level when the bus was in motion.

Now, the case will finally go to trial.

A single defendant

Originally, nearly a dozen defendants were named, including Brent Simonsson, 41, the driver, who did not have a commercial driver’s license to operate the bus and, according to the lawsuit, was only allowed to drive a vehicle if it had an ignition interlock device in place.

Other defendants included Cat Tracker owners Robert Pottroff and Larry McBee and McBee’s business, Kat Tracker Promos LLC, as well as about a half-dozen individuals referred to as the “Cat Tracker Crew,” a group that owned, operated and financed the bus’ trips across the country to support the K-State football team.

In the more than three and a half years since the accident, nearly all of the defendants have settled out of court for undisclosed amounts or have been dismissed from the lawsuit. The settlements remain sealed as part of the court file.

One defendant remains: Russell Briggs and Briggs Auto Group of Manhattan.

No warnings

Court records show that Briggs Auto Group purchased a yellow school bus in August 2003 and converted it into the Cat Tracker, retaining ownership of the fan bus until transferring it to Pottroff and McBee in February 2005.

The lawsuit states Briggs owned the Cat Tracker at the time it was “negligently modified, participated in such modifications and subsequently transferred ownership of the vehicle in a dangerous and defective condition, knowing what its intended use was going to be.”

Briggs Auto Group also serviced and inspected the vehicle on June 15, 2005.

The bus contained no signs warning passengers not to enter the upper deck while the bus was traveling, according to the suit. There were no chains or barricades and passengers were not given any verbal warnings. The lawsuit also claims that on previous trips the ladder to the upper deck had been removed. It was still in place on the date of the accident, allowing passengers access to the upper deck.

“The defendants are all well aware, the Cat Tracker was defectively designed and unsafe and lacked the most basic guards, barricades and warnings to render it safe,” the lawsuit states.

Several attorneys involved in the lawsuit would not comment on the case.

Jury selection begins this morning.

Comments

flyin_squirrel 3 years, 9 months ago

KEITHMILES05,

I agree Briggs shouldn't be responsible but I hope he loses. I am just saying he is a crook, and karma is a b....

Anyone who does business with this man is asking for trouble.

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flyin_squirrel 3 years, 9 months ago

KEITHMILES05,

I agree Briggs shouldn't be responsible but I hope he loses. I am just saying he is a crook, and karma is a b....

Anyone who does business with this man is asking for trouble.

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KEITHMILES05 3 years, 9 months ago

Crook or no crook the people on that bus should have had the common sense to conduct themselves appropriately. They didn't and a couple people died or were seriously injured. Amazing how nobody takes responsiblity these days.

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flyin_squirrel 3 years, 9 months ago

Briggs is a crook, and even if he isn't responsible, I hope he is found guilty. He has no less than 4 lawsuits against him right now. A signed contract to him is worthless, and I am sure he modified the bus just to make a few extra dollars, not caring about the consequences.

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morganlefay 3 years, 9 months ago

The only crime committed here is stupidity by the party goers on that bus. Leave it to KSU fans not to duck when there's a bridge up ahead.

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oneeye_wilbur 3 years, 9 months ago

This CAT bus accident is a very good reason that the City Commission should deny the request from the OREAD INN to close off an intersection in the heart of a heavily traveled area near campus. There is an accident waiting to happen.

And in this case, it would be city commission who would be served up as liable.

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neolib 3 years, 9 months ago

If Briggs failed to comply with any requirements, permit or otherwise, set forth to regulate vehicle modification, they have at least a limited extent of liability for the tragedy, especially in light of the fact of a common sense awareness that one the primary functions of the vehicle was to transport revelling passengers, of whom it is known that some inbibe to impaired states.

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OldEnuf2BYurDad 3 years, 9 months ago

The part that got my attention was the driver with the history of DUIs who didn't have a license to drive the vehicle. WOW. To me, that's the most amazing part. The rest of the story is mostly about people not paying attention while having a little too much fun. Most of us have been there before (though maybe not to this extreme). The decision to hire the driver is the key failure. It was probably his responsibility to remove the ladder.

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macon47 3 years, 9 months ago

Several attorneys involved in the lawsuit would not comment on the case. untill at least they get thier windfall, and cash thier checks

it is all about the money

you just cant fix stupid!

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thebigspoon 3 years, 9 months ago

If the bus was illegal to operate then you might as well sue the KHP for not pulling it over on its way here from Manhattan. Then you might as well sue Ron Olin and the LPD for not pulling it over while it was operating on the streets of Lawrence.

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imastinker 3 years, 9 months ago

Ron, like all the cases like this one, it's all about the money. The reason they are the only ones that are left is probably because they have the deepest pockets. They don't give the totals, but my guess is that Briggs is probably being sued both at a corporate level and at a personal level, and probably for enough money to take his business and all of his personal assets as well. That's why they made the claim that he was negligent in modifying the vehicle, that's how they pierce the corporate veil. Defending such a case will probably cost upwards of $200k, and that's if he wins.

All that becuase he sold it to someone who used it in an irresponsible fashion and didn't put a sign up telling people not to ride up top when the bus is moving.

What a country we live in!

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Bob Kraxner 3 years, 9 months ago

The bus being overloaded was negligence on the part of the driver. The people riding on the roof while the bus was moving, is nobodys fault but their own. Anyone who perished in this accident had no common sense whatsoever. Why would any sane individual stand on top of that bus while traveling down any street at any speed above 5 mph? Why didn't the driver slow way down or even stop to make sure no body was up there? I'm betting there was alcohol involved. Responsible adults would have never left the passenger compartment at any speed. Nobody should be awarded any money, but the driver should be in prison for at least 5 years.

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Ron Holzwarth 3 years, 9 months ago

It's not that I don't think they have a case - the problem is that they have already reached a settlement with the responsible individuals. Actually, I'm somewhat surprised that they aren't trying to sue the city of Lawrence for not building the bridge higher.

As I recall, the clearance under that bridge was just a bit under 15 feet. That's not a legal problem though, it was very well posted.

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Ron Holzwarth 3 years, 9 months ago

Another point: When built by Briggs Auto Group, "The Cat Tracker was designed to hold 14 passengers and a driver."

Much later, the day ended in tragedy while overloaded with 22 passengers.

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Ron Holzwarth 3 years, 9 months ago

"The lawsuit also claims that on previous trips the ladder to the upper deck had been removed. It was still in place on the date of the accident, allowing passengers access to the upper deck."

Briggs Auto Group sold the vehicle in February 2005, and the accident occurred in November, 2006. That is, one year and nine months after Briggs Auto Group sold the vehicle, someone left the ladder in place while the vehicle was moving.

And, the plaintiffs claim that the ladder had always been removed while the vehicle was moving, while Briggs Auto Group owned the vehicle.

I'm certainly not an expert, but I thought that after you sold a vehicle, you are no longer responsible for its operation, unsafe or otherwise. I'm sure the defense will point that out in court.

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