A major trucking company whose drug-impaired driver blocked a rural, S.C. road at night with his tanker loaded with 8,800 gallons of gasoline has paid $11 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the family of a man who died after accidentally ramming the tanker.
Kenneth Avis, 48, a father and stepfather of two and caretaker of his aging mother, was burned to death in the August 2016 crash, which caused an explosion and a huge gasoline fireball.
At the time, Avis was driving his 18-wheeler loaded with cardboard at about 57 mph. He was on S.C. 4 about eight miles west of Orangeburg when he cleared a hill and suddenly saw the gasoline tanker before him. He slammed on his anti-lock brakes but was still going an estimated 25 mph when his truck hit the tanker.
“The fire was so hot, the tanker melted and they had to repave the road,” said attorney Cheryl Perkins, who worked with John Eric Fulda and Mandy Shuler to settle the case without going to trial.
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Their wrongful death civil lawsuit on behalf of widow Teresa Avis alleged that the tanker driver, David Gullikson, had not been properly trained and was high on drugs and “operating in an impaired state, under the influence of methamphetamine, at the time of the crash.”
Gullikson, the driver who parked his tanker in the middle of the two-lane road, is in the Orangeburg County jail charged with reckless homicide in Avis’s death, according to the 1st Circuit Solicitor’s office. No trial date has been set.
“Defendant Gullikson’s actions (blocking the road with his gasoline tanker in the middle of the night) seemed inexplicable until documents showed that his post-accident drug test – a comprehensive three-part analysis – was positive for amphetamine and methamphetamine,” according to a plaintiff’s filing in the case just settled.
In the settlement, filed in federal court in Orangeburg, Eagle Transport Corp. did not admit fault.
According to its Internet site, the oil and gas transport company is headquartered in Rocky Mount, N.C., has hundreds of tanker trucks and operates throughout the Southeast.
Eagle Transport attorneys Duke Highfield and Victoria Anderson could not be reached for comment.
Avis attorney Fulda said one reason that led to the settlement, besides Gullikson’s placing his tanker in the middle of the road and the drug findings about him, was likely the terrible manner of Avis’s death by fire and smoke.
At the time of the crash, the shape of Gullikson’s rig was like a jackknife, with his front lights pointed toward Avis’s oncoming 18-wheeler. Gullikson was trying to back up into a small road that intersected with S.C. 4.
“It wasn’t until our guy was up on him that he could see the tanker trailer was perpendicular to the tractor and going across the road,” Fulda. “It was like trying to back your boat into a boat landing, then turn around and go the other way.”
Ironically, just yards away there was a big parking lot where Gullikson could have easily turned around without endangering anyone, Fulda said.
“The fire was so intense it burned down surrounding telephone poles,” Fulda said.