Judge Declines Split Trial in 2010 Fatal Fire Apparatus Crash

One lawsuit remains that is tied to the motor vehicle crash a little more than three years ago that claimed the lives of two volunteer firefighters in Rocky Mount (VA).

Lawyer Brian Brydges represents defendant Teri Anne Valentine, who was driving an SUV on the afternoon of July 26, 2010, when she collided with the fire truck at a traffic light. The firefighters were heading east on Virginia 40 in response to the report of a residential house fire in Union Hall with a person possibly trapped inside.

After colliding with Valentine’s 2007 Ford Escape at the intersection with School Board Road, the fire truck reportedly rolled three times and firefighters William “Danny” Altice, 67, and Posey Dillon, 59, were ejected and killed.

During a court hearing Tuesday, Brydges asked Judge William Alexander to divide the trial into two phases.

“Judge, this is not your run-of-the-mill death case,” Brydges said. “The case has gotten an unusual amount of press. It’s a very high-profile case.”

As proposed by Brydges, the first phase of the trial would determine whether the jury found one or both or neither of the defendants to be liable for the death of Altice, a passenger in the fire truck driven by Dillon. Ann Dillon, as administrator of her husband’s estate, is the other defendant.

The plaintiff is Christie Altice-Weaver, a daughter of Altice and executor of his estate. Her lawsuit alleges that both Valentine and Posey Dillon were “grossly negligent” on the day of the collision because Dillon allegedly entered the intersection on a red light “without regard for the safety of individuals on the roadway, including his passenger.” And it alleges that although Valentine had a green light she failed to yield the right-of-way to an emergency vehicle.

On Tuesday, Brydges said that if the jury determined there was liability, the trial’s second phase would determine related damages that might be paid to Altice’s beneficiaries.

“I think this is a defensible case on liability for both defendants,” Brydges told Alexander.

He suggested that if the case was not split into two parts that testimony by Altice’s granddaughter about the emotional impact of her grandfather’s death could influence a jury’s deliberations about liability.

James Daniel, a lawyer representing Ann Dillon and the estate of Posey Dillon, supported Brydges’ motion.

But Tony Russell, the lawyer for plaintiff Altice-Weaver, argued against splitting the trial.

“I’m not aware of any run-of-the-mill death cases,” Russell said, noting that such cases typically include impassioned and emotional testimony.

He said a two-phase trial would be fundamentally unfair to Altice’s beneficiaries.

Alexander ultimately declined to split the case.

For more information, view www.roanoke.com

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