Wrongful Death Lawsuit Brings Back Memories

A civil lawsuit in Nacogdoches is bringing back memories of a Halloween night tragedy that happened three years ago. That's when three students from Chireno were killed instantly in a collision with an 18-wheeler.

Their families have sued the state for wrongful death. They say the intersection where the accident happened should have been made safer.

On October 31, 2000 17-year-old Wayne Hailey was celebrating with Heather Anderson on her 15th birthday. They shared the night with Hailey's 9-year-old brother, Casey Pate, by attending Halloween activities.

The fun and their lives came to a halt in a matter of seconds when Hailey came to the intersection of Highway 21 east and Farm to Market Road 95.

"The pickup the teens were in came out from the stop sign and the 18-wheeler hit them. The pickup basically went under the 18-wheeler and drug them into the house," said DPS Trooper John Henley following the day of the accident.

Measurements show the pickup was drug more than 300 feet.

Tamara Pate, her ex-husband, Kyle Pate, and Heather's grandparents and guardians, Darrell and Celia Anderson, reached an undisclosed settlement with the trucking company and truck driver. They also hold Texas Department of Transportation liable for not cutting the trees near the intersection.

"Keep the trees down is a big part of it, but also there is such a steep distance in the way the ramp goes around and the speed," said Tamara Pate during a break in closing arguments.

TxDOT attorneys argue that there's no state requirement to have a sight line cleared at intersections without crosswalks. A month after the accident TxDOT did clear the trees, but attorneys say that isn't proof of negligence, but rather an answer to a community's concern.

Crosses show passing motorists that three people died near this intersection. Parents of the children want a lawsuit to send a stronger message.

Celia Anderson, Heather Anderson's grandmother and guardian said the decision to file a suit wasn't easy.

"To go through a trial like this is like going through a 3-week-old funeral. It's up and down, every minute and you think nothing good can come of it. But I bet it will be closure for all of us," said Anderson.

Pate wants the suit to lead to changes at the intersection.

"There's no possible way that even if you did see them there's not any way to get out of the way. It's a very dangerous intersection. Very dangerous," said Pate.