Jury in Kilgore firefighter death lawsuit trial shown bucket
May 3, 2012 at 10 p.m.
Jurors in Longview will hear this morning that inadequate latches allowed two Kilgore firefighters in a whiplashing aerial bucket to break through its doors and fall to their deaths.
Design engineer Kirk Rosenhan, who has served on national firefighter equipment standards panels, also will testify a far superior latch was in common use in 2008 when Kilgore bought the fateful ladder truck for its fire department.
A training exercise in January 2009, weeks after taking delivery of the 95-foot ladder truck, cost the lives of firefighters Kyle Perkins and Cory Galloway. Perkins' widow, Linda, her mother-in-law and the couple's two children are suing the maker and retailer of the specialized firetruck.
The four-man, eight-woman jury will know what Rosenhan is talking about after seeing the ladder platform, or bucket, during a field trip Thursday afternoon to East Whaley Street, where it was parked.
"The latch, being a unidirectional latch, didn't hold," Rosenhan testified Thursday in Judge Alfonso Charles' 124th District Court.
Rosenhan, who examined the platform bucket from which the firefighters fell, along with witness statements and court depositions, will give the jury his opinion that the fatal accident would not have occurred with a Nader pin latch.
Named for consumer advocate Ralph Nader, the Nader latch is standard on all cars and trucks. It's also standard on firetruck doors, including the one Kilgore bought. It was not used on the doors securing the ladder platform, or bucket.
Rosenhan testified Thursday, outside the jury's presence, that the bucket "whipped back and forth" when it sprang free of the rooftop lip after hanging up atop the eight-story Stark dormitory at Kilgore College during training exercises.
"And there were multiple collisions," he said.
Perkins and Galloway each burst through separate doors on the beveled corners of the bucket as the doors gave way outward - a direction they were not supposed to swing.
"If it had a Nader pin, this accident wouldn't have happened," Rosenhan said, adding that a force strong enough to break that type of pin would have been sufficient to crush the men against each other.
Rosenhan also told defense attorney Keith Slade, who represents maker E-One and retailer Hall-Mark Texas, that he had not performed a hazard analysis or conducted his own tests on the bucket. Slade asked the judge to prevent Rosenhan from giving jurors his opinion on the bucket's latches.
"He went out and looked at the truck," Slade said of Rosenhan. "The doors were overcome, so he concludes there is a design flaw with the truck."
Earlier Monday, Perkins attorney Jack Walker continued to present evidence that E-One had failed to impress on the Kilgore firefighters the importance of wearing a safety belt. Such a harness to the bucket could have prevented the men's fall.
On a large screen on the opposite wall from the jury, Walker played the video testimony of three E-One employees. They included mechanical engineer Fred Cureton, in charge of training the staff who show customer fire departments how to use their purchases.
Cureton said he never wore a safety belt when taking potential customers up for a demonstration. He also said he doesn't make customers wear one.
"I make a decision about me," Cureton said. "The fire department makes a decision about their people. They have their policies."
"But, they haven't bought it yet," Walker said on the videotaped testimony. "In the (E-One) policy, it doesn't say anywhere that Fred Cureton gets to make that decision."
Cureton also said he had received a 2007 company email telling trainers to wear safety belts so customers would know they are important.