This news story originally provided by
The Lexington Herald-Leader
May 19, 2005
Coal firm is sued for fatal crash
Widow's suit says truck overloaded
By Lee Mueller
EASTERN KENTUCKY BUREAU
- The widow of a Martin County minister killed in March
by an overloaded 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 W. Kirk
"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
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 was hauling 150,150 pounds of coal on a narrow two-lane highway
with a weight limit of 62,000 pounds.
"It was a disaster waiting to happen," Kirk said.
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
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, but does not
specify any amounts.
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.