The surviving children of a 73-year-old East Texas woman killed in a 2016 crash were awarded $730 million Monday by a Titus County jury in a wrongful death lawsuit.
Toni Combest was driving from one church service to another on Feb. 21, 2016, when she was killed on the White Oak bridge near Mount Pleasant by a nearly 200,000-pound “Super-Load” escorted by front and back pilot escort vehicles.
The lawsuit for negligence causing wrongful death was filed against the trucking company and the employing companies of the front and rear escort vehicles.
Landstar Ranger, the trucking company, and S&M Pilot Service, the employer of the rear escort driver settled prior to trial for $50 million and $1 million, respectively. The case against 2A Pilot Cars, the employer of the front escort vehicle, went to trial and lasted about a week.
Brent Goudarzi of Goudarzi & Young in Longview and Gilmer represented the family in the lawsuit. Nelson Roach of Roach Langston Bruno also tried the case with Goudarzi.
“Yesterday, a proud jury in Titus County awarded our clients $730 million,” Goudarzi said Tuesday morning. “That jury stood up against the entire industry and is going to force them to affect changes. They’re going to make roads in Texas, and specifically all over East Texas, safer.”
The verdict, which the law firm called “the single largest wrongful death verdict” in U.S. history,” awards the money to Combest’s four surviving adult children: Amber Ramsey of Pittsburg, Clint Combest of Hughes Springs, Melanie Combest of Hallsville and Stacey Stansbury of Irving.
The crash was recorded on the rear escort vehicle’s dash camera. The load being moved was military equipment. According to the petition, the cargo was on a route that spanned from El Paso to Texarkana.
According to court documents, the lead pilot escort vehicle ran Combest off the road just as she was rounding a blind curve onto the bridge. On the bridge, Combest faced a tractor and load that was almost completely within her lane.
The driver was able to swerve his vehicle out of her lane, but he was not able to remove the 16-foot wide load from her path before the load struck her car. The bridge along U.S. 271 is about 26 feet wide.
The petition claims the pilot vehicles and truck approached the bridge at a speed of 70 miles per hour. When the truck collided with Combest’s vehicle, it ripped off the top portion of her car. The lawsuit claimed the pilot vehicles and tractor-trailer exchanged little or no communication via CB radio prior to the crash.
Goudarzi said the case and decision help expose the dangers of the oversized load and escort-vehicle industries.
“This verdict will send a message to the over-sized load and escort industries that they will be held accountable when they place profits over safety in a manner that leads to catastrophic events like the one that took the life of Mrs. Toni Combest,” Goudarzi said in a statement.