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A multimillion-dollar lawsuit stemming from a horrific crash on Interstate 95 in East Lyme on Nov. 2, 2007, that left three people dead, several injured and closed the highway for hours is headed to trial in Hartford Superior Court.
Jury selection is under way in the case known as Dugas vs. Northeast Carriers and the trial is scheduled to begin April 9 before Judge Kevin J. Dubay. The civil wrongful death and recklessness/negligence case was removed from New London Superior Court to the complex litigation docket in Hartford because there are multiple parties involved.
Three people who were injured and the estates of three people who died are suing Northeast Carriers, a Brooklyn-based company that owned the tanker truck that careened out of control and jumped across the highway, ramming into a tractor-trailer and causing a pileup.
They also are suing Geiway Expedited, the Philadelphia company that owned a tractor-trailer driven by James F. Holloway. Though Holloway's truck was not involved in the crash, the plaintiffs claim that he and tanker driver Peter Derry, 51, of Webster, Mass., had been racing one another and driving in tandem at high speeds in the moments before the crash. Witnesses also said Derry had been weaving in and out of traffic.
Derry died at the scene, as did Lu-Ann Dugas, 54, of East Lyme, who had an eye doctor's appointment that morning in Groton, and Fred Held, 33, a bartender and avid poker player from Milford who was on his way home from one of the local casinos.
The injured drivers include James J. Clark, 27, of Long Island, who was driving the southbound tractor-trailer, and Lynn Mariani of Stonington and Samantha Clough of Groton, two Mystic area teachers who were carpooling to a workshop. Their car was stuck beneath the tractor-trailer.
Though the parties have attempted to resolve their claims through mediation, they have been unable to agree on a settlement. Attorneys for the plaintiffs said they could not disclose how much money they are seeking, but court records reference millions of dollars in lost wages and income, medical bills and expenses and pain and suffering.
"The point of this trial is to establish damages, what the values of the claims are and what role the trucks played," said attorney Carl A. Secola Jr. of New Haven, who is representing Held's estate.
The trial could take up to a month.
New London attorney Matthew Shafner, who represents Dugas' estate, said the plaintiffs' attorneys are planning a unified presentation for the liability portion of the case before each of them makes a presentation about their own client's individual damages.
Phyllis Martino, an eyewitness to the accident, may be called to testify at the trial along with Jeff Jacobs, a sportswriter for The Hartford Courant who told The Day after the crash that he had witnessed aggressive driving by the northbound tanker truck and tractor-trailer truck.
New London attorney Shelley L. Graves is representing Clark, the southbound tractor-trailer driver who had his pit bull Tiny with him in the cab on the day of the crash. Graves said Clark suffered extensive injuries, including multiple foot and leg fractures, a back injury, fractured ribs and head trauma. He has undergone three surgeries and is unable to work as a truck driver, according to Graves.
Groton attorney Peter Bartinik Sr. is representing Mariani, who was able to escape from her car and pull her fellow teacher, Clough, to safety with the help of another person. Hartford attorney Dina S. Fisher represents Clough, who suffered crack vertebrae and an injured foot.
Attorneys representing Northeast Carriers from the Fontaine & Alissi law firm of Hartford could not be reached for comment.
Milford attorney Christine M. DeFillippo, representing Holloway and Geiway, has filed several motions seeking to keep information from the jury. She is seeking to exclude references to racing during the trial, saying evidence the trucks were driving at high speed and passing each other miles before the accident occurred is "irrelevant in that it is too remote in time and distance to the accident."
DeFillippo also is seeking to keep from the jury pictures or video depicting the bodies of the dead at the scene, claiming the visual images are "unduly gruesome and intended solely to influence the jurors."