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How safe are Texas highways? A little bit safer, hopes attorney Frank L. Branson, after landing a $20.7 million jury verdict last year against a trucking company and a driver who admitted he smoked crack the day before a 2004 accident that killed a man. The Dallas Morning News featured the fatality in a three-part investigative series on truck accidents in Texas caused by convicted felons, including those who received their commercial drivers licenses through prison employment programs. Branson hopes that the verdict and the medias interest given to it catch the attention of the trucking industry and place a public spotlight on its hiring practices. In most instances, it is not illegal for trucking companies to hire drivers with criminal records. But Branson convinced a jury that Dallas-based EnviroClean Management Services, which transports medical waste including blood and body parts, was negligent in hiring Turner Yarbrough, a convicted felon who plowed his 18-wheeler into a line of cars on the LBJ Highway in North Texas, severely injuring 76-year-old Robert Bohne, who died five months later. The 2007 verdict is believed to be the largest ever in a Texas truck accident and is particularly large given that both the deceased and his widow were elderly, Branson says. The
case settled several months ago for a confidential amount, with both sides agreeing to forgo appeal of the verdict. I think the jury did the only thing we as citizens can do to effect change, says Branson, whose offices are in Dallas but represents clients throughout the state. This man should never have been hired to drive any kind of commercial vehicle. He had a proven history of not being a trustworthy driver. The jury said enoughs enough. The day before the wreck, Yarbrough testified that he smoked crack for six hours. Although he claimed he was no longer under the influence of drugs when the accident occurred, cocaine was found in his system after a drug test required by the Department of Transportation was conducted later that day. Police had ticketed Yarbrough at the scene of the accident, in which
three other people besides Bohne were injured, but did not test him for drugs or alcohol or charge him with any crime. Bohne sustained serious injuries including broken ribs, a collapsed lung, and a traumatic brain injury. He never left the hospital and died from his injuries 162 days after the accident. The lawsuit was brought on behalf of his widow, 84-year-old Kathleen Bohne, and his estate. The plaintiffs contended that EnviroClean was negligent in not conducting a background check of Yarbrough, who had also caused a wreck several years earlier, when he was driving a Dallas city bus and ran into a utility pole, injuring a passenger. At his deposition for the Bohne case, Yarbrough said he had cocaine in his system during the earlier bus accident. He also had numerous criminal convictions including
driving with a suspended license, driving without insurance, larceny by check, and marijuana possession. He testified that he disclosed his criminal record on his job application with EnviroClean but they didnt ask him about it. The plaintiffs also claimed that EnviroClean should have but did not perform random drug tests on Yarbrough.