Sept. 24--ROCKY MOUNT -- The question still haunts Teri Anne Valentine , according to her attorney, more than three years after her SUV collided with a fire truck at a busy Rocky Mount intersection -- a collision that resulted in the deaths of two volunteer firemen.
Brian Brydges said his client, who entered the intersection on a green light, questions why she did not see or hear the fire truck that afternoon until it was too late.
After the two vehicles collided the fire truck veered and then rolled three times, witnesses said. Firefighter Posey Dillon, 59, and colleague William "Danny" Altice, 67, were ejected and died of their injuries.
Dillon was driving that day and Altice was the sole passenger. The date was July 26, 2010. The men were responding to the report of a house fire in Union Hall with possible entrapment of a person inside.
Legal action filed in the wake of the crash included lawsuits and counter suits, but eventually only one action remained -- a lawsuit filed by Christie Altice-Weaver, a daughter of Altice and executor of his estate.
A related trial began Monday in Franklin County Circuit Court that will ask a jury to decide whether Valentine, the woman driving the 2007 Ford Escape SUV that afternoon, and/or Dillon, behind the wheel of the fire truck, acted with negligence that led to Altice's death.
Nine jurors will hear the case, but only seven will deliberate at the end of the trial, which is expected to last three days.
While Valentine was on the witness stand, Tony Russell, an attorney representing Altice-Weaver, asked her whether it was still her position that Dillon was to blame for the crash.
"From my perspective, yes," Valentine said.
Yet Martha Medley, an attorney representing widow Ann Dillon and the estate of Posey Dillon, said during her opening statement that Valentine was the only witness who did not hear the fire truck's siren or see its flashing lights. And Medley said Valentine's inattention caused her to fail to yield the right of way to an emergency vehicle.
Valentine testified that she had her windows rolled up, with her air conditioning on and her radio playing.
Medley suggested the radio was playing at a high volume but Valentine said it was at a normal conversational level.
The collision occurred at the intersection of Virginia 40 and School Board Road. An investigation by Virginia State Police Trooper R.D. Conley determined that Valentine had a green light and Dillon faced a red light. Conley concluded that the fire truck slowed but never stopped as it entered the intersection and reported that Valentine "lawfully entered the intersection" before striking the fire truck.
Conley's report observed that the fire truck "failed to proceed through the red light with due regard to safety," thereby violating state law that allows emergency vehicles to proceed through red lights "if the speed of the vehicle is sufficiently reduced to enable it to pass a signal, traffic light or device with due regard to the safety of persons and property."
Altice-Weaver's lawsuit contends that Valentine was negligent, noting that state law requires drivers to yield the right of way to emergency vehicles that are providing audible or visual notice of their presence with a siren or air horn and by displaying flashing, blinking or alternating emergency lights.
And the suit suggests Dillon was negligent because he allegedly entered the intersection "without regard for the safety of individuals on the roadway, including his passenger."
Medley said in her opening statement that an eyewitness with a clear view of the scene will testify during the trial that the fire truck slowed before the intersection and came to what could be described as a rolling stop.
Altice-Weaver's suit seeks a judgment of $2 million "plus taxable costs with interest from July?26, 2010, to the present." It reports that Altice's children were left to feel "unbelievable sorrow" and mental anguish after his death in addition to losing his companionship and income.