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Family of wreck victims looks for safety changes

Family of wreck victims looks for safety changes

Mar 14, 2013 - By Christina George, Staff Writer

Anthony and Deaun Smith of Riverton were killed in 2011 while stopped at a road construction site.

On the morning of Aug. 25, 2011, Anthony and Deaun Smith of Riverton were en route to Casper for a doctor's appointment.

Jeff Smith said his older brother, Anthony Smith, was going to have a tube removed from his throat after a surgery the previous week in Denver showed he had successfully battled throat cancer and no longer needed the device.

But the couple never made it to the appointment. The two were killed after their vehicle was rear-ended

by a man in an Encana Oil & Gas truck. The Smiths had been sitting in road construction on U.S. Highway 26/Wyoming Highway 789 just outside of their hometown.

Driver's eyesight

The driver of the pickup truck - Gavin Shurtleff - was traveling 67 miles per hour when he crashed into the back of the couple's fully stopped PT Cruiser. In March 2012, he was sentenced to two years of home detention and $4,000 in fines on two counts of misdemeanor homicide by vehicle as a result of the incident.

During his sentencing last year, Shurtleff said one factor in the crash was a disease called Stargardt's that has left Shurtleff 5 percent blind. The Smiths' family members say Encana knew about Shurtleff's medical condition; the family is asking the company to make changes to its safety procedures to assure another tragedy doesn't happen.

"We believe they need more procedures and to look at things that were going on," Jeff Smith said. "If there were true safety procedures in place, this wouldn't have happened."

The victim's families, represented by attorney Bob Schuster of Jackson, filed a wrongful death case against the oil and gas company. The case has since been settled prior to trial for confidential amounts, but the family has sent a letter to Encana officials asking that changes be made to safety procedures.

"We wanted to make sure people who have authority to make changes were completely aware of the facts of the case," Jeff Smith said. "We wanted those in charge of safety to look at (the case) and make sure it doesn't happen again. ... Ultimately what they do is up to them."

Request to company

In the letter, which was sent last month, the family stated Encana knew about Shurtleff's degenerative eye disease for more than four years prior to the fatal collision in 2011.

They pointed out that Shurtleff was in seven prior crashes, including collisions with a wild horse, a calf, a deer, an antelope and another heavy-duty service truck, and he was convicted and had received warnings for speeding. Also, Shurtleff had a medical certificate that had been expired for more than a year prior to the crash.

The letter was sent to Encana Corporation president Randy Eresman and Encana Oil & Gas (USA) Inc. president Jeff Wojahn.

"We would ask that you candidly evaluate the circumstances of these deaths and then take those actions that may assure that other families will not experience similar losses," the letter stated. "In that manner, all of us would be able to say that the deaths of Tony and Deaun were not in vain - that they stood for something - and that the two of you did your part to make sure that appropriate safety policies and safety systems are adopted by your companies - parent and subsidiary alike."

Task force

The family asked Encana to appoint a blue-ribbon task force to make specific recommendations for a comprehensive safety program at the company. They also recommended a safety data system be established that would require systematic analysis, yearly gathering of driver information regarding criminal charges and vehicular incidents, a specific action program to research any medical conditions or disabilities of drivers, comprehensive written safety policies, the adoption of standards that would actually be enforced, and the establishment of policies that would require accountability and responsibility for unsafe actions.

The family asked Encana to respond within four months.

"We just wanted them to make change," Jeff Smith said. "I think you still find yourself in a state of disbelief because of the way that (Tony and Deaun) died. It was so sudden and it didn't have to happen knowing all the safety (measures) that failed. ... It's quite the tragedy you don't get over."

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