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Suit filed in wreck that killed couple

Feb 15, 2012 - By Martin Reed Staff Writer

Family members of the Riverton couple killed in a crash near the Boysen Reservoir causeway filed a federal lawsuit accusing Encana Oil and Gas Inc. of negligence.

The lawsuit blames Encana for allowing an employee with a degenerative eye disease and a history of vehicle crashes to operate the 12,000-plus-pound truck that collided with the married couple's stopped vehicle Aug. 25.

Deaun L. Smith, 54, and Anthony C. Smith, 53, died in the crash when the Encana truck driven by Gavin Lane Shurtleff slammed into the rear of their PT Cruiser at a Wyoming Department of Transportation construction zone.

Both Smiths died at the scene of the crash.

Jackson attorney Bob Schuster filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for Wyoming on Feb. 10 on behalf of Anthony Smith's sister Debra Smith-Hirz and his son Tobias Smith, as well as Deaun L. Smith's daughter Crystal Schamber and brother Lee Heermann.

The action seeks an unspecified amount of damages including exemplary and punitive against Encana. The lawsuit does not name Shurtleff as a defendant.

Encana spokesman Doug Hock said the company has no comment on the lawsuit.

In a separate criminal prosecution, Shurtleff pleaded no contest Jan. 25 to two counts of misdemeanor homicide by vehicle resulting from the deaths of the Smiths. His sentencing has been set for March 5 in Riverton's Circuit Court.

in a sworn statement accompanying the criminal charges filed in court, Wyoming Highway Patrol Trooper Jessie Jackson said skid marks from Shurtleff's truck were absent before the impact point.

The federal lawsuit by the Smiths' family members noted the Encana truck crashed into the PT Cruiser at about 67 mph "without a scintilla of braking."

In his affidavit, Jackson said Shurtleff repeatedly told him he has "bad eyes." The trooper stated he learned Shurtleff has been diagnosed with Stargardt disease, which can cause blurry or distorted vision.

The federal lawsuit claims Encana knew Shurtleff had the eye disease and that he had been in "multiple truck wrecks."

His crashes included "missing a stop sign in foggy conditions and crashing on the other side of the intersection, hitting and killing a horse in the Gas Hills, hitting and killing a calf on Bass Lake Road, and hitting and killing a deer," according to the lawsuit.

Encana also knew that Shurtleff's condition "was of such significance that he would ultimately lose his driver's license," according to the lawsuit.

Several warning signs, starting at 7,270 feet before the Wyoming Department of Transportation construction area, had been placed leading up to the the impact point, according to the lawsuit.

"The Encana driver stated he saw construction signs, slowed down temporarily, but then speeded back up in spite of the signs," according to the lawsuit.

"Following the collision, the Encana driver claimed he could not see because of the sun and admitted he was navigating the Encana truck at 67 miles per hour by looking at the center stripe of the highway rather than looking forward to see whatever might be in front of the speeding truck," according to the lawsuit.

The civil action alleges misconduct by Encana including failing to require its employees to obtain yearly eye examinations, not telling government agencies about Shurtleff's eye condition and failing to provide proper worker oversight.

"Encana recklessly placed and retained Mr. Shurtleff in a position that Encana knew would involve Shurtleff's operation of a truck weighing more than 12,000 pounds on the public highways, thereby exposing the traveling public ... to the dangers attendant to Mr. Shurtleff," according to the lawsuit.

"His disabilities, limitations, and propensities were known to Encana managerial and supervisory personnel and ... Encana's managerial and supervisory personnel recklessly failed to undertake additional investigation regarding those disabilities, limitations, and propensities," the lawsuit states.

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