The widow of a Marine killed in a fiery crash when a tanker truck slid down a decline and impacted his vehicle has settled her case with the excavating company that owned and operated the truck.
Canyon Environmental agreed May 30 to pay $8 million to Katherine Stevens, widow of Staff Sgt. Andrew P. Stevens, who died on Route 3004 in Susquehanna County in January 2015.
Stevens sued the company and driver Arlan Taft in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, alleging that the driver acted “negligently and recklessly” in operating the truck and lacked the necessary knowledge to operate the truck safely, according to the plaintiffs’ pretrial memorandum. Particularly, Stevens took issue with Taft’s downshifting of the truck when negotiating a steep grade, which ultimately led to the loss of control Taft experienced.
“In a steep downhill, such as this, downshifting is not appropriate. A driver is to have his truck in a gear at the top of the hill that is appropriate to control his speed during the entire descent,” court papers said. “Downshifting creates a high probability for failure to get the truck back into the next gear. If a driver is unable to get his truck back into gear he will lose control of the vehicle and lose all engine braking function. When this happens the brakes alone are insufficient to stop the truck. Commercial drivers are required to downshift at the top of the hill before starting downhill, and should never attempt to downshift while traveling down a hill or decline.”
Canyon’s attorney, Matthew Perry of O’Malley, Harris, Durkin & Perry in Scranton, did not respond to a request for comment.
In its pretrial memorandum, Canyon argued that Andrew Stevens was comparatively negligent.
“He pulled out onto the roadway in question at a time when it was not safe to do so,” the defense memorandum said.
According to the plaintiffs’ attorney, Marion Munley of Munley Law in Scranton, the case was resolved on a fortuitous occasion.
“It settled during jury selection which just happened to be the ninth wedding anniversary of Mr. and Mrs. Stevens,” Munley said. “Staff Sgt. Stevens was a truly remarkable husband, father and Marine. He had a fabulous career ahead of him … what happened to him was a tragedy and a loss to our country.”
Stevens was 27 years old when he was killed. He served combat tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, embassy duty in Zambia and Canada, and was a drill instructor training Marine recruits, court papers said. The Stevens have two children, ages 2 and 5 at the time of the accident.