Sept. 25--ROCKY MOUNT -- The jury deliberated three hours before returning Wednesday in Franklin County Circuit Court with a verdict that found that the negligence of Teri Anne Valentine, the driver of an SUV that collided in July 2010 with a fire truck at a busy Rocky Mount intersection, led to the death of volunteer firefighter William "Danny" Altice, 67.
The jury cleared the driver of the fire truck, the late Posey Dillon, 59, of any negligence in the crash, which occurred about 4:30 p.m. July?26, 2010, at the intersection of Virginia 40 and School Board Road. Dillon, a longtime chief of the Rocky Mount Volunteer Fire Department, also died of injuries resulting from the collision.
The trial that began Monday was tied to a lawsuit filed by Christie Altice-Weaver, the daughter of Danny Altice and executor of his estate. Altice-Weaver's lawsuit alleged that negligence on the part of both Valentine and Dillon led to Danny Altice's death. Valentine and Ann Dillon, as administrator of her husband's estate, were defendants in the case and had separate attorneys.
Judge William Alexander presided.
After finding that Valentine acted negligently that day, the seven-person jury awarded $9,984.37 to the Altice family to cover funeral and burial expenses only.
Tony Russell, an attorney for Christie Altice-Weaver, had suggested that the jury consider awarding $350,000 to each of the three survivors of Danny Altice, including daughter Christie, son Carey Altice and granddaughter Kayla Altice, if they found that one or both defendants had been negligent.
Valentine testified Monday that she does not know why she did not hear or see the fire truck until it was too late to avoid the collision. Dillon and Altice were eastbound on Virginia 40, responding to the report of a house fire in Union Hall with the possibility of a person trapped in the house.
After the collision, the fire truck hit a curb and then began to flip. Altice and Weaver were ejected as the vehicle rolled and died of their injuries.
Valentine entered the intersection that day on a green light from School Board Road, and Dillon faced a red light. Several eyewitnesses testified during the course of the three-day trial that they clearly heard the fire truck's siren and air horn and saw the emergency vehicle's flashing lights as it approached the intersection.
Brian Brydges, Valentine's attorney, cited the testimony of one witness who said she had heard loud music coming from a vehicle with at least one window open at the intersection. Brydges noted that witness Patricia Perdue's description of that vehicle did not match the appearance of Valentine's green Ford Escape. And he suggested that if the music kept Valentine from hearing the fire truck's siren and air horn then she would not have been on the lookout for an emergency vehicle.
Valentine's testimony Monday did not mention hearing loud music from another vehicle.
An investigation of the crash by Virginia State Police Trooper R.D. 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 contended 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.
The lawsuit argued that Dillon was negligent because he allegedly entered the intersection "without regard for the safety of individuals on the roadway, including his passenger."