Victim's relatives sue over I-95 crash

Woman was killed when tanker fell off overpass and exploded in flames

December 04, 2004|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Relatives of one of the four people who died in a fiery crash on Interstate 95 in January are suing the owner and operator of a tanker truck that plunged off an overpass and into the path of oncoming traffic.

Steven J. Knachel and Travis D. Pinnick contend that their mother, 42-year-old Rita Ann Gall of Myrtle Beach, S.C., who was driving a truck on I-95, died as a result of negligence by the tanker driver, Jackie Marvin Frost.

Frost also was killed in the crash, which shut down the interstate near Elkridge for seven hours on Jan. 14.

Gall's sister, Laurie Ann Hoppe, also is a plaintiff in the case.

The relatives are suing Ryder Truck Rental, owner of the gasoline truck, and Petro Chemical Transport Inc., Frost's employer, for unspecified damages.

The lawsuit was filed in Michigan, where Gall's relatives reside, but was transferred last month to U.S. District Court in Baltimore and assigned to Judge William D. Quarles.

An investigation by the Maryland Transportation Authority Police concluded that Frost apparently suffered a heart attack or experienced some other medical emergency before losing control of his truck, which went off an overpass that carries I-895 over I-95 and exploded.

The lawsuit contends that Frost acted negligently by failing to act with reasonable care while carrying out an "ultra-hazardous activity."

It claims that Petro Chemical and Ryder share the liability for the Finksburg man's actions.

"You put a person in a truck with thousands of gallons of combustible fluids, you would hope that the company would make sure that the people were in excellent health," said Marc L. Jordan, a Columbia attorney representing Gall's relatives.

Thomas J. Althauser, the defendants' attorney, pointed to the transportation authority's findings.

"The conclusions reached there obviously are the best evidence of what happened," he said.

The investigators' report found no evidence of mechanical failure and said an autopsy showed evidence that Frost, 64, suffered from heart disease.

Officers said the crash scene showed no evidence that Frost had applied his brakes, and a witness reported having seen the driver slumped over the wheel before the crash.

Also killed in the accident were Marc Baladi, a 63-year-old Baltimore taxicab driver, and 62-year-old Maurice Durschlag of Glen Burnie, who was driving a Chevrolet pickup truck.

Jordan said no trial date has been set. He added that he expects the case to take at least a year to come to trial if it is not settled.

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