$36M settlement closes 2005 NY bus crash lawsuit

AP News
Posted: Dec 14, 2011 1:00 PM
$36M settlement closes 2005 NY bus crash lawsuit

The owners of a Canadian charter bus and a tractor-trailer are paying $36 million to settle a lawsuit over a 2005 highway collision in western New York that killed four people and injured 19, attorneys said Wednesday.

The settlement with Coach Canada and two Pennsylvania trucking firms heads off a string of trials that were set to begin this month.

The bus was carrying a Canadian youth hockey team from Windsor, Ontario, when it swerved off Interstate 390 about 30 miles south of Rochester and slammed into the truck parked on the side of the highway on Jan. 29, 2005.

Killed were Richard Edwards, 46, who coached the Windsor Wildcats women's hockey team; his 13-year-old son, Brian; and a third passenger, Catherine Roach, 50. Truck driver Ernest Zeiset Jr., 42, also died.

All the other 19 bus passengers suffered injuries, which ranged from broken bones to brain trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder. They included the coach's wife, Sheila, and their daughter, Kelly, a player on a team of women ranging in age from 19 to 21.

Two insurers for Coach Canada are paying $22.5 million _ almost two-thirds of the settlement _ and three insurers for truck operator J & J Hauling Inc. of York Springs, Pa., and trailer owner Verdelli Farms of Harrisburg, Pa., are contributing $13.5 million, said Glenn Pezzulo, an attorney for the tractor and trailer companies.

"There was going to be one trial after another until they were all done," Pezzulo said, starting with a Dec. 6 trial for Traci Butler, the team's assistant coach. Court papers noted she suffered a brain injury, broke several bones and became partially deaf.

While police suspected fatigue and inexperience led to the crash, 24-year-old bus driver Ryan Comfort escaped criminal charges. He had driven for the bus company for two months.

Witnesses said he was driving erratically before the crash, but a grand jury declined to indict him. He pleaded guilty to a logbook violation and a traffic violation of failing to stay in the proper lane and was fined $300.

The bus was chartered in Windsor by the hockey team and was traveling to a ski resort when the crash occurred at dusk.

Authorities alleged Comfort lied about the hours he worked in another job during the three days before the crash and failed to report in the driver's log book that he drove team members around Rochester in the six hours before they embarked on the ski trip. Commercial drivers are required to maintain accurate logs of their work hours and break times.

Comfort told police the bus "acted as though it struck something in the roadway, which caused it to veer to the right. ... I did not fall asleep at the wheel, nor was I influenced by any drugs or alcohol."