Family of Four in Two Separate Cars Killed by Trucker on Interstate

The relatives of a family killed in a chain-reaction crash are suing the trucker who crashed into them on the interstate, as well as five other transportation companies, for negligence.

The wrongful death lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court of Nebraska by the deceased wife’s parents as well as by the deceased husband’s mother late Monday. The couple was on their way to California, where they were moving to be closer to family.

Authorities said that Josef Slezak, the driver of the truck, failed to stop on Interstate 80, where traffic was at a standstill due to another truck’s crash. The couple was traveling in separate cars, waiting in standstill traffic after a collision on the Interstate, when authorities say Slezak struck the husband, Christopher Schmidt’s, car, going 75 miles per hour, without hitting his brakes.  From the force of the crash, Christopher’s car was forced into his wife’s car, ramming her car underneath another semi, causing both of their cars to explode. The two children were in the car with their mother, who was 7 ½ months pregnant with their unborn son. The family died instantly.

The lawsuit accuses those truckers of negligence, including a truck driver who was killed. The lawsuit alleges that Slezak was on the road for too long.

Slezak is charged with four counts of manslaughter and five counts of vehicular homicide and one count of vehicle homicide of an unborn child.

The lawsuit also targets truck driver Vladimir Zhukov and his employers, Swift-Truck Lines, Ltd., and MTR Express Inc.  It all began when Zhukov’s semi-trailer experienced a mechanical failure, causing the truck to stop in the middle of the interstate. The lawsuit alleges that Zhukov failed to move his truck from the middle of the highway when his air brakes stopped working, claiming that he or his employer failed to maintain the truck in a safe manner. Zhukov did pull the tractor truck off the interstate, but the trailer remained on the highway, in the middle of traffic, according to the lawsuit.

Also named in the lawsuit was Long Haul Trucking, Inc., the deceased truck driver’s employer, and North Metro Truck Leasing LLC, provider of the truck that Keith Johnson, 27, was driving.

Johnson’s truck slammed into Zhukov’s semi, causing a fire that blocked traffic. The lawsuit alleges that Johnson failed to avoid the crash in spite of Zhukov’s truck flashing his emergency lights.

Christopher was a U.S. Air Force veteran who had worked for the Department of Energy in Washington and had just taken a new job with the U.S. Social Security Administration in California.

Slezak, a citizen of Czech Republic, awaits his trial in County District Court.

The lawsuit alleges Slezak violated federal highway safety rules by being behind the wheel longer than the maximum time permitted for truckers. Federal rules require truckers to be off-duty for a minimum of 10 hours before they can resume driving after an 11-hour driving set.  According to the lawsuit, Slezak had exceeded the maximum by at least three hours.

There are far too many accidents involving trucks exceeding the speed limit in order to make good time for their deliveries.  Do you think the truck drivers are to blame or the company’s that employ them, encouraging them to make good time or both?  Maybe if the truck that caused the first accident on the interstate were driving in the right hand lane, it would have been easier to avoid this disaster. Do you think semi trucks should be required to travel at night only? Feel free to comment on this blog post. Contact one of our Gacovino Lake attorneys at 1-800-246-HURT (4878).

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