Family of Wyoming man killed in truck crash sues driver, carrier

The family of a man killed two years ago in a tractor-trailer crash on Interstate 80 in Albany County, Wyoming, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against a North Carolina trucking company and one of its former drivers.

Vidal Madera, 57, of Laramie, Wyoming, died when Tonya Hightower, 48, of Wichita, Kansas, lost control of her rig while traveling westbound on I-80 around 5:15 a.m. on March 21, 2018, drove through the median and hit Madera, who was driving a 2001 Chevy Cavalier in the eastbound lane.

Madera’s family filed the civil complaint against Hightower and Carolina Logistics Inc. of Candler, North Carolina, in mid-April in U.S. District Court in Casper, Wyoming. James Madera is representing the family in the wrongful death suit, which seeks a jury trial.

The lawsuit alleged that Hightower “failed to keep a proper lookout for other vehicles, failed to drive in the proper lanes, failed to take evasive action to avoid the collision, failed to apply her brakes to avoid the collision, failed to maintain the Carolina Logistics Inc. tractor-trailer under her control and failed to use reasonable cause on the operation of a commercial vehicle.”

Court documents claim that Carolina Logistics breached its duty by failing to install adequate safety equipment, including a lane departure warning system, on the Freightliner tractor that Hightower was driving.

Carolina Logistics did not respond to FreightWaves’ request for comment about the lawsuit.

The company has 315 power units and 379 drivers, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s SAFER website.

Over the past 24 months, Carolina Logistics’ trucks have been inspected 607 times and 107 trucks were placed out of service, resulting in a 17.8% out-of-service rate, which is lower than the industry’s national average of around 21%, according to FMCSA data. Its drivers were inspected 1,305 times and five were placed out of service in the same two-year period, resulting in a 1.1% out-of-service rate, which is below the national average of around 5.5%. The company has been involved in 11 injury crashes and 29 towaways over the past 24 months.

The fatal crash and Hightower’s conviction

The Wyoming Highway Patrol stated that Hightower fell asleep while driving, which caused her to cross the median and slam into Madera’s vehicle, according to the Laramie Boomerang. 

The court filing states that Madera sustained fatal injuries when his vehicle was “split in half by the force of the collision” and he was ejected from his car.

Hightower was sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison in November, three months after an Albany County jury found her guilty of aggravated homicide by vehicle.

She is appealing her conviction and her attorneys have until May 21 to file a brief with the Wyoming Supreme Court.