Archive for Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Survivor recounts details of Cat Tracker fatality as civil case opens in Lawrence

James Thompson, attorney for Samantha Green, the widow of John Green, who was killed in the Cat Tracker accident, displays a computer image of the top deck of the Cat Tracker bus Wednesday during testimony in Douglas County District Court. John Green died Nov. 18, 2006, when he struck his head on the Irving Hill Road overpass as the bus attempted to pass under it on its way to Memorial Stadium for the Kansas University vs. Kansas State football game.

James Thompson, attorney for Samantha Green, the widow of John Green, who was killed in the Cat Tracker accident, displays a computer image of the top deck of the Cat Tracker bus Wednesday during testimony in Douglas County District Court. John Green died Nov. 18, 2006, when he struck his head on the Irving Hill Road overpass as the bus attempted to pass under it on its way to Memorial Stadium for the Kansas University vs. Kansas State football game.

July 7, 2010

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Witness testifies about deaths in Cat Tracker case

A man who was on top of the bus and stooped down to light a cigar missed the bridge. He testified in the case today about the deadly 2006 incident. Enlarge video

Samantha Green is the widow of John Green, who was killed in the Cat Tracker accident.

Samantha Green is the widow of John Green, who was killed in the Cat Tracker accident.

It’s a rare instance where smoking actually saved his life.

Marc Hoobler was riding on the top deck of the Cat Tracker on Nov. 18, 2006, when at the exact moment the double-decker bus passed under the 15-foot bridge on Iowa Street at the Irving Hill Road overpass, he crouched down to shield from the wind a cigar he was trying to light.

“The first thing I remember was a loud banging noise, the sound of metal being pounded on,” Hoobler said while testifying Wednesday morning in Douglas County District Court. “The four guys up front were trying to get the bus to stop.”

Hoobler said he immediately looked for his friend and business associate, John Green, who had been standing about a foot away on the top deck of the Cat Tracker, and he was no longer there.

Green, who was 27, was killed almost instantly when he struck his head on the bridge as the bus attempted to pass underneath it on its way to Memorial Stadium for the Kansas University vs. Kansas State game that Saturday morning.

Another man, Chris Orr, was critically injured. Hoobler recalled seeing Orr lying face down and bleeding after the accident.

The force of the impact pushed Green over the railing onto the lower deck below. Forensic pathologist Dr. Werner Spitz testified that Green had a “defensive wound” on the outside of his right hand, as if he saw the bridge out of the corner of his eye and put his hand up to protect his head.

Green’s widow, Samantha Green, who was pregnant at the time of the accident, filed a lawsuit in Douglas County District Court against the driver of the bus, as well as against the owners, operators and manufacturers of the Cat Tracker II.

Of the nearly dozen defendants in the case, all settled out of court except Briggs Auto Group of Manhattan.

The bus

Testimony in the civil case began Wednesday morning, with attorneys from both sides making their opening statements.

“This bus was in a defective condition when it left the control and custody of Briggs Auto Group,” attorney for the plaintiff James Thompson told jurors. “This tragedy was foreseeable.”

Thompson said during his opening statements that jurors will have an opportunity to view the actual Cat Tracker during the course of the trial.

He said the bus had a history of traveling to away games, always with passengers riding on the top deck, loud music playing and plenty of revelry.

“There was a way this bus rolled all the time,” Thompson said. “It was meant to come into an opposing team’s town and let everyone know they were there.”

But Thompson also told the jury that although this was a “party bus,” alcohol did not play a part in Green’s death.

The group on board that day was associated with Syngenta Crop Protection, where Hoobler and Green both worked. They had purchased the trip on the Cat Tracker to the game in Lawrence for $5,000 from a Cat Backer Auction and had invited about a half-dozen of their clients.

“It was a festive atmosphere, but we were all mature adults,” Hoobler said.

Other witnesses riding on top of the bus described the mood as jovial, with loud music playing. Several members of the group said they had consumed a couple of beers in the morning, but that no one seemed drunk.

Hoobler also testified that they were under the impression their group would be the only one on the Cat Tracker that day, but as the bus made several stops in Topeka and Lawrence, more and more passengers got on. By the last stop at the Miller Mart in Lawrence, there were roughly 22 passengers riding the bus, forcing the Syngenta group up to the top deck.

Jerry Brown, an Emporia resident whose company had a business relationship with Syngenta, told jurors a person on the ground at the Miller Mart had yelled up to the riders on top of the bus to look forward — that the bus sits higher than one would think.

“That individual probably saved my life,” said Brown, who had previously testified that he tried to shout a warning to others on the roof to get down after seeing the overpass coming ahead.

Hoobler said earlier in the trip he had approached the driver and asked him whether it was OK to go outside.

The driver nodded, according to Hoobler.

“At any point in time on Nov. 18, did you feel like you shouldn’t be up there?” Thompson asked Hoobler.

“I felt safe,” he replied. “I never felt like I was in any danger.”

Ownership

The trial will likely boil down to one issue: Who owned the bus at the time it was modified into the Cat Tracker?

Briggs Auto Group purchased the 1988 yellow school bus for $1,000 in August 2003 from Harden, Ky. Attorneys for the plaintiff claim the transfer of ownership to Manhattan attorney Robert Pottroff did not occur until February 2005, well after the modifications to the bus were made.

But Briggs’ attorney Larry Tyrl said the bus was given away as a 50th birthday present on Aug. 17, 2003.

“Briggs Auto Group is not in the business of fabricating, converting, re-manufacturing buses and selling them,” Tyrl said during his opening statements.

The trial is expected to last at least a week and a half. Thompson said he hopes to present to jurors a complete picture of who the victim was and what his loss means to his family.

“You will know who he is. If nothing else occurs this week, you will know who this man was, who this husband was and who this future father was going to be,” Thompson said.

Comments

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 12 months ago

"Thompson said he hopes to present to jurors a complete picture of who the victim was and what his loss means to his family."

The event was a tragedy, but "a complete picture of who the victim was and what his loss means to his family" has nothing to do with who was responsible for his death, would certainly be my opinion if I were on the jury.

Steve Bunch 4 years, 12 months ago

This is a civil trial and part of the jurors' task, if they rule for the plaintiff, is to put a price on the damages. I suspect that's why the attorney is presenting "a complete picture...."

Tristan Moody 4 years, 12 months ago

That's all well and good, but this "complete picture" is irrelevant in determining whether or not this particular defendant is liable, and I'm surprised that the judge in this case is allowing this particular testimony.

domino 4 years, 12 months ago

A number of years ago, while living in a small town, I traded my car in for a new vehicle. I knew there were several problems with the car when I traded it - none of which were major, but things like gas gage didn't work, brake pads needed replaced, etc. - that was part of the reason I traded it. The dealership ended up selling the car to a man I knew and really did not like. After this man had purchased my old car, my spouse and I were dining out one evening when this man sauntered up to me and basically said, "Don't know if you know it or not, but I bought your old car. Is there anything wrong with it you want to tell me about?" I turned to look at him and said, "No." So in comparing this, I would be responsible for this man if he should have ever had a wreck with that vehicle.

Have to agree with Big_B - seems like a stretch to sue the former owner.

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 12 months ago

A few years ago, I suddenly and unwisely decided to sell a quite nice Honda Accord for $500, because I was under the impression that it needed an expensive repair. It was making a horrible noise, and I made it very, very clear to the man on the phone that he would have to put some money into it. After all, it was a $500 car! (but it turned out to be very minor, it was an exaust leak!)

Within the last 100 miles, I had had the timing belt and water pump replaced, and the battery was quite new. I had also just put on 2 new tires, also within the last 100 miles, and not cheap ones at that. And, the oil had just been changed. I was so stupid to sell that car at all, much less for only $500!

I very carefully explained to the purchaser that he was paying for a new timing belt, a new water pump, and 2 brand new tires. The rest of the car was FREE!

Then, after we had been to the courthouse and concluded the sale, he suddenly demanded a COMPLETE list of EVERYTHING that was wrong with the car! Man, I told him everything I could remember! Basically there was nothing wrong, except for the exaust leak sound!

So he bought my Honda Accord for $500. Damn, was I stupid, and he sure cashed in on that!

The following day, I discovered that my Ford Explorer had a screw intentionally driven into the side of one of the rather new tires, and it could not be repaired, it needed to be replaced. Also, the reservoir for the washing fluid on the back had been intentionally broken. Quite a lot of damage!

And I knew who had done it! It was the man who bought a $500 Honda Accord!

And then I realized why - the glove box door was broken, and it would fall out when you opened it. I never thought to tell him about that, because I was so used to it because it had been that way when I bought the car!

I guess he expected to buy a BRAND NEW CAR for $500, and he felt cheated because the glove box door had been broken for years!

So the moral of the story is, watch out when you sell your used car! And, it's sometimes a good idea to trade it in at the dealer, so that the next owner will never know who you are!

Flap Doodle 4 years, 12 months ago

"And I knew who had done it!" What you think you know and what is may not be the same thing. A lot of people voted for Dear Leader in November of 2008 thinking they knew that he wasn't just another low-life politician. Hopenchange isn't exactly what they expected.

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 12 months ago

I left out some telling details. Otherwise, it would have been to long and boring.

lobo 4 years, 12 months ago

It seems to me that a potential Darwin Award should be adequate compensation.

ECM 4 years, 12 months ago

I agree. This guy isn't a victim he made a bad choice.

ScottyMac 4 years, 12 months ago

The people who made bad choices: The company that modified the vehicle without proper safety measures; the owner of the vehicle for failing to hire a properly trained and qualified driver; the driver of the vehicle.

Other people who made bad choices: The anonymous "experts" who offer unsolicited legal opinions on civil liability standards, delight in sick jokes about victims of automobile accidents and their families, and make excuses for a reckless, two-bit enterprise who could not be bothered to warn its unsuspecting passengers that the vehicle they paid to ride in was not fit for the road.

mdfraz 4 years, 12 months ago

So everyone EXCEPT the adults who chose to stand on top of a moving vehicle, maybe 10-15 feet off the ground, all while drinking alcohol? Yeah, makes sense.

And you make a excellent point.......the vehicle they paid to ride IN, not ON.

ScottyMac 4 years, 12 months ago

Well, now. If it wasn't made to ride "on," then why was the roof accessible to the passengers? Why did the passengers receive no warning that the upper level was unsafe? Why did the driver proceed knowing that the passengers were on top? If the passengers are supposed to be smart enough to know that it was unsafe, then shouldn't the driver have known that too? Shouldn't the owner of the vehicle have known? Shouldn't the maker of the vehicle have known?

Besides, how were the passengers even supposed to know that the upper level exceeded the height limit for the route that the paid driver chose to take? If the bus was scheduled to pass under a low bridge, shouldn't the passengers have been notified? Unless you are a commercial driver, you probably don't give much thought to vehicle height. The passengers paid the driver to make those decisions.

And so what if the passengers were drinking? When did that become illegal? Remember: The CatTracker is a party bus. People pay to ride on party buses so they can party, which for many means drinking alcohol. If they wanted to stay stone cold sober, they probably would have driven themselves.

Suppose a hotel advertises a party on an elevated deck that is designed to hold a maximum of 150 people. Now suppose 2000 people show up, and the hotel allows them all onto the deck. Now imagine that the patrons received no warning of any kind that the deck is unsafe for that number of people.

Now suppose the deck collapses, 300 people are dead or injured, and an investigation reveals that the deck wasn't even safe for the 150 people for which it was designed to hold. If you believe that neither the hotel nor the builder have any legal liability, you need to go back to law school.

If you believe that the people who went to the advertised party are to blame, you have much deeper issues.

Kash_Encarri 4 years, 12 months ago

The roof of my SUV and the roof of my wife's minivan are both accessable. Should I allow people to ride up there? Should I expect people to ask to ride up there?

ScottyMac 4 years, 12 months ago

"The roof of my SUV and the roof of my wife's minivan are both accessable."

By accessible, do you mean that there's a fixed ladder leading from the interior to the roof, and that the roof is outfitted with seats?

"Should I allow people to ride up there? Should I expect people to ask to ride up there?"

Well, if you do allow it, do you expect to have some liability if someone gets hurt?

cellogrl 4 years, 12 months ago

Snap pop no crackle, did you seriously just find a way to make this into an anti-Obama thing? Wow. Get over it.

Shane Rogers 4 years, 12 months ago

I remember when this happened, it definitely was a tragedy. However I do believe that the person largely responsible would almost have to be the driver. He should have known the hight of the vehicle and been aware of the hight restriction on the overpass. This has nothing to do with the owners or the former owners.

nonbeliverofprint 4 years, 12 months ago

I totally agree with you. Being familiar with the truck driving industry, I have become very familiar with height restrictions and how it is the drivers responsibility to make sure he/she meets those requirements. I have heard of many drivers destroying trucks/trailers/bridges because they were too tall and it was the driver/employer who was responsible for the damage not the people who made the truck/trailer/bridge. Why should anyone think this is so different?

femmefatale 4 years, 12 months ago

I happen to know Mr. Potroff & he is a scandelous, & coniving lawyer. A scandelous person for that matter.

Kelly Johnson 4 years, 12 months ago

In the last line of the first paragraph, the word "expect" needs to be changed to "except."

fotomom 4 years, 12 months ago

What has happened to PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY - were these men told that they had to stand up, while consuming alcohol by Briggs or the driver of the bus. Indeed, Briggs was the owner of the bus - and I am aware that this was a tragic accident - but sometimes bad things happen, and we just need to accept that our loved ones weren't acting like the adults that they were. I believe there is not a court nor a jury that should be hearing this testimony.

imastinker 4 years, 12 months ago

Briggs wasn't the owner of the bus anymore. He was the previous owner that supposedly put the top on it.

imastinker 4 years, 12 months ago

I'd like to hear what kind of device you think would have prevented this.

imastinker 4 years, 12 months ago

That's ridiculous to think that would work.

It still depends on the driver to enforce it, who wasn't paying enough attention.

nonbeliverofprint 4 years, 12 months ago

Who are we to say that there wasn't ever a chain there? Since it was built many years ago and transferred owners a time or two - it could have been removed by anyone. We don't know that. Even if it never had one - it is the current owners responsibility to add a sign. You know all of this goes back to the reasons manufacturers had to put warning labels on hair dryers to not use while in the shower to avoid electric shock and possible death. What ever happened to good old fashioned common sense? AND why do we reward people who don't use it?

bad_dog 4 years, 12 months ago

If the driver wasn't paying attention to the conduct of his passengers, he was arguably negligent. Any resultant liability on his part would get transferred to his employer under the theory of respondeat superior.

As for whether people should have been on the roof or not, I believe the testimony so far has been to the effect that those persons were forced up there by the excessive # of passengers placed on the vehicle by the operators. I believe there were 22 people on a bus designed to carry 14 passengers. If you were forced to move up there because the vehicle was overcrowded, is it really surprising people stood up while on the roof? How many seats were available on the roof? Was adequate seating available for the overload? Keep in mind the passengers did not create the roof-top "patio", nor were they barred from accessing it-moving or otherwise. Perhaps they exercised poor judgment to the point they were contributorily negligent but that is also an issue for the jury.

As for the merits of this lawsuit, it likely survived the defendant's vigorous attempts to dismiss it for failure to state a claim for which relief can be granted and/or via a Summary Judgment Motion. As such, the Court (which likely is much better informed on legal matters than any casual observers on the LJW boards) believes it is a legally supportable claim with issues needing adjudication by a jury.

Can any of you honestly and objectively state that you or your families would not be seeking compensation if you were injured/killed in this accident?

Yeah, right.

jafs 4 years, 12 months ago

Nobody's really arguing that the current owner and especially the driver aren't somewhat at fault.

The question is whether the previous owner has any liability here.

mdfraz 4 years, 12 months ago

Using "public transportation" as an analogy doesn't work. When you rode the double decker in London, did you stand outside on the roof? On the train, were you on the roof when entering a tunnel? That's essentially what these people did here. Just because the driver didn't tell them NOT to doesn't mean they HAD to go out on the roof. As many point out, this is about personal responsibility. Even the witness who is quoted in the article pointed out that they were all mature adults, supposedly not even drunk. So, what was to keep them from exercising their own judgment not to stand outside on the roof of a moving bus?

It was a full bus........that sucks, but by the time you are at 19th and Iowa, you are just a few minutes away from the stadium; if the bus is crowded, I'm sorry, and that's something to complain about possibly, but being a bit crowded vs. being killed by a bridge.........hmmmmmm. Not to mention that even if you never anticipated hitting a bridge, what about falling off a moving vehicle from a height of 10-15 feet (or however high they would have been by the time they reached the roof)? Gee, who would think you might get hurt riding around like that?

And when you rely on "the driver should have told them", how does that relate to the current lawsuit involving a previous owner of the vehicle? ANYTHING can be dangerous if people use it incorrectly and/or don't use common sense. Further, was it foreseeable for the previous owners to anticipate that the current owners/driver would allow 20+ people to get on the bus, which it probably was NOT designed for? If it wasn't, then Briggs shouldn't be liable. And to assume that the ONLY reason for putting the deck on top was so people could ride it while in motion is kinda dumb. Just maybe the plan was that people could tailgate once they reached a stadium.

Jaylee 4 years, 12 months ago

Surely, there were other bridges that the Tracker could have, and did, pass under with no deaths.

Only post I really agree with is that the driver should have been aware of the bus height and noticed the low bridge.

I understand the sentiments rationalizing the whole thing as the adults on board's fault, but don't believe them to be true. You rent a party bus so you can relax with friends. Watching (and ducking) for every bridge is definitely not a part of that.

I remember this incident and it was awful to have happen. I can only agree that the driver is responsible.

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 12 months ago

Yeah, but he's already settled out of court.

justforfun 4 years, 12 months ago

Awesome model of Cat Tracker!! Are those coolers of beer on top??

yankeevet 4 years, 12 months ago

So a lawsuit; and hopes too get money; will make her feel better..........

bad_dog 4 years, 12 months ago

They didn't go up there until the bus became overloaded with passengers at the Miller Mart in Lawrence.

imastinker 4 years, 12 months ago

People keep talking about this deck like the only reason to have it would be to ride down the road on it and that's why it was unsafe. These things are used all the time for things like racing where it would be nice to be higher to see better over the other trucks and trailers in the lot (kind of like tailgating).

They are very common and set up on trailers or such where they are only used in the parked position.

http://www.nsxfiles.com/images/may_misery_trailer.jpg

cntrygrl 4 years, 12 months ago

I grew up with John and his older sister and was devastated when this tragedy occurred. He was a wonderful guy and his family are some of the greatest people you could ever hope to meet. I continue to pray for the Greens and I hope that they are someday able to find peace.

Kontum1972 4 years, 12 months ago

Question?

did the bus have a liquor license to dispense malted beverages or hard liquor? So having an open container of an alcoholic beverage didnt pertain to the bus operation? So was the driver in a sealed/locked cockpit so that they would not have access to said beverages? So, correct me if i am wrong...if the container is open and it is in the back seat and u are pulled over and the police find it ,can u be charged for having it in your vehicle?

ScottyMac 4 years, 12 months ago

Open container laws do not apply to buses, limos or taxis, as long as the operator is a hired driver and has met the legal requirements of other public laws such as licensing requirements.

bad_dog 4 years, 12 months ago

I understand what you're saying, but disagree with the need to say it on this forum in that manner.

I do remember seeing them parked in the Community Mercantile lot before another KU/KSU game (2006?). They were finally told to leave because the passengers were being loud, throwing beer cans around and playing their fight sound at an amazingly loud level of obnoxiousness...

birdsandflowers 4 years, 12 months ago

Several thoughts . . . it would seem to me, riding on the top of a moving vehicle would not be safe. Like the gentlemen at the Miller Mart who observed a sense of danger -- I bet he would not have chosen to be on that upper deck when it was moving. Call it common sense, fear, or even overly fearful, -- those instincts are what keeps us from meeting terrible fates. (And, I do not like the attorney's comment that the group was "forced" up to the upper deck -- please! The ones who paid $5,000 for the bus are forced up there by spur-of-the-moment guests jumping on?!) That being said, I do understand how getting caught up in the revelry and excitement of the day's events can overshadow these instincts or fears; then adding alcohol to the mix . . . I agree with where imastinker was heading -- that the upper deck should only be used when the vehicle is parked, like in this case for tailgating. It's too bad the owner of the bus did not foresee the potential dangers of mixing avid Wildcat fans with alcohol and have waivers signed stating the rules (which should have included a closed gate with a sign stating nobody allowed on upper deck when vehicle is moving) and if these rules are broken . . . I know it has been stated that alcohol did not appear to have contributed to this accident, but it was not prohibited, therefore not a good mix. Lastly, I believe in personal responsibility that includes the owner to put in place rules that keep passengers safe, the driver to enforce those rules, and the passengers to follow those rules. One problem here is that the owner and driver were not violating any laws (that I'm aware of) by not posting any rules. Minus any posted rules or signed waivers -- I'm sorry, but common sense and personal judgment by the passengers is what counts.

jafs 4 years, 12 months ago

Apparently the driver didn't have a valid license, and had some DUI's.

Also apparently he allowed more people on the bus than he was supposed to do.

And, I'm not sure you're right about the legal question - if the driver/owner know there's a hazardous condition and don't disclose it, they may have some legal liability.

Pat Long 4 years, 12 months ago

Who is the presiding judge in this case?

calwt262 4 years, 12 months ago

I can't get over the irony that smoking saved Marc Hoobler's life. What are the chances that Marc ever quits smoking?

morganlefay 4 years, 12 months ago

I really hope this woman doesn't get a penny from this bogus lawsuit. I remember the terrible traffic jam this accident caused on Iowa St. that day. I think the citizens of Lawrence should bring a class action lawsuit against these people for all the traffic congestion this event caused! Makes about as much sense as her lawsuit, doesn't it?!

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