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June 23, 2001 - Three Lawsuits Seek Damages In Truck-Bus Accident

The driver of the Mountainburg school bus in a collision that killed three students has sued the driver of the truck that hit the bus, the driver's father and the trucking company. Robert Denniston and his wife, Phyllis, alleged in the lawsuit filed this week in U.S. District Court that the owners of Gayle Stuart Trucking Inc. of Vandalia, Mo., truck driver David Picton and his father, Bill Picton, were guilty of negligence in the accident. The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

Denniston, 76, was driving the bus past the southbound exit of Interstate 540 on May 31 when a tractor-trailer driven by David Picton failed to stop at a stop sign and slammed into the side of the bus, police reported. The bus carried nine students. Elwin Rhoads, 15, died at the scene. Travis Foster, 16, died in surgery later that day. Sean LaRue, 14, died June 6 in a Fort Smith hospital. The other children and Denniston were injured. Bobby Huff, 15, remained in serious condition Friday at St. Edward Mercy Medical Center in Fort Smith.

Denniston was hospitalized in Fort Smith until June 9. The lawsuit blamed the defendants' actions for Denniston's injuries and said he suffered pain and suffering, "excruciating mental anguish," and will continue to incur medical expenses. The suit alleged that Gayle and Frances Stuart, owners of the trucking company, Bill Picton, who owned the tractor, and David Picton failed to inspect and maintain the tractor-trailer in good working order.

The suit also faulted the Stuarts for hiring David Picton and allowing him to drive for them. David Picton was negligent for failing to keep a proper lookout, failing to keep the truck under control and at a proper speed and failing to stop at the stop sign, the Dennistons claim. The suit also claims that David Picton was negligent in "driving with inadequate sleep and rest while making false entries in his log book to conceal such action." Phyllis Denniston lost the companionship and support of her husband because of the crash, the suit alleged.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators said that all 10 brakes on the tractor and the trailer had some kind of mechanical problem. The Arkansas State Police cited Picton with failing to yield at a stop sign and driving with defective brakes. The Arkansas Highway Police cited Picton with operating with a false log book and unsafe operation of a commercial motor vehicle.

Two other lawsuits have been filed against David Picton and Gayle Stuart Trucking since the accident. Vickie McDaniel, mother of Jarrad McDaniel, 13, who was a passenger on the bus, filed suit in Crawford County Circuit Court earlier this month against David Picton, the Stuarts and the trucking company.

McDaniel's attorney, Phillip Votaw of Fort Smith, transferred the case to U.S. District Court earlier this week. The suit has been scheduled to go to trial on Feb. 22, federal court records show. On Friday, attorneys for Gayle Stuart Trucking filed a response to the McDaniel complaint, denying McDaniel's allegations of negligence and asking that the suit be dismissed. Kathryn Foster, the mother of Travis, filed suit June 13 in Crawford County Circuit Court. She sued David and Bill Picton, the Stuarts, their trucking company and five unnamed defendants listed as John Does. That lawsuit charged that the defendants were the cause of the accident through negligence and recklessness. The suit claimed David Picton failed to control his truck to avoid colliding with the bus and failed to properly maintain the truck and its brakes. The Complaint also alleged that Bill Picton and the Stuarts failed to properly inspect and maintain the brakes and failed to keep the truck in good working condition.

In all automobile accident cases it is essential that measures be taken promptly to preserve evidence, investigate the accident in question, and to enable physicians or other expert witnesses to thoroughly evaluate any injuries. If you or a loved one is a victim of an automobile accident, call now at or CLICK HERE TO SUBMIT A SIMPLE CASE FORM. The initial consultation is free of charge, and if we agree to accept your case, we will work on a contingent fee basis, which means we get paid for our services only if there is a monetary award or recovery of funds. Don't delay! You may have a valid claim and be entitled to compensation for your injuries, but a lawsuit must be filed before the statute of limitations expires.

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