October 31, 2012
A wrongful death suit has been filed by the parents of a couple killed in a chain-reaction crash in September in western Nebraska. The suit names the three truck drivers involved in the crash as well as their employers. One of the three, 36-year-old Josef Slezak, is alleged to have driven into a group of vehicles stopped for previous crash on Interstate 80, about 40 miles from the Wyoming state line. The suit alleges Slezak, of River Grove, Ill., had been at the wheel three hours longer than permitted by HOS regulations, and failed to stop or slow down prior to the crash. Slezak, a citizen of the Czech Republic, faces four counts of manslaughter, four counts of vehicular homicide, and one count of vehicle homicide of an unborn child. Slezak's employer, AKI Trucking Inc. of West Lafayette, Ind., is also named in the suit.The couple, Christopher and Diana Schmidt, of Gaithersburg, Md., along with their two young children and unborn son, were in separate cars en route to California when they stopped on the highway for a previous crash.Accidents reports show that a truck driven by Vladimir Zhukov, 66, of Oak Park, Ill., had experienced brake problems. Zhukov had attempted to drive his truck clear of the roadway, but the trailer remained in a travel lane. Zhukov's trailer was struck from behind by a truck driven by Keith Johnson, 27, of Big Lake, Minn. Johnson was killed in that collision, which effectively blocked both westbound lanes. The Schmidts were stopped in the traffic backup, parked directly behind a truck driven by William Wiener.Wiener, listed as a witness to the crash, said in an affidavit that there was lots of CB chatter about the first crash. Wiener said he saw Slezak's truck approaching at high speed and that it did not appear to slow down before it struck Mr. Schmidt's car. An accident reconstructionist who examined the scene concluded that Slezak's truck failed to slow before hitting the car. Published reports say the force of the collision between Slezak's truck and Mr. Schmidt's car drove the car into the rear of his wife's car, which was rammed under the rear of Weiner's trailer. The force of the collision caused both cars to explode, killing the family instantly.Investigators say Slezak slammed into the back of Schmidt's car at 75 mph, without hitting his brakes. Other Parties NamedZhukov is named in the suit for failing to move his disabled truck clear of the roadway, and his employers, Swift-Truck Lines Ltd., and MTR Express Inc., for failing to maintain the equipment. The lawsuit also names Long Haul Trucking Inc., the employer of driver Keith Johnson, and North Metro Truck Leasing LLC, the owner of Johnson's truck. The suit alleges Johnson failed to avoid the crash even though the emergency flashers on Zhukov's truck were operating at the time.The parents of the deceased filed the wrongful death lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Nebraska on Monday.