Kentucky Vehicle Enforcement
Company Admits Overloading Truck
BY MARY MUSIC
Ashland-based Appalachian Fuels admitted fault in an overweight coal truck accident that killed a Martin County reverend two years ago.
After reaching a confidential settlement in a Martin County wrongful death suit filed by Rev. Lonnie Preece's widow, Doris Preece, the company revamped its stance of innocence and plead guilty in Pike County to one count of permitting the unlawful operation of a overweight motor vehicle on a highway.
Appalachian Fuels, LLC and its foreman Scott D. Sturgill were criminally cited in Pike County for allowing a coal truck owned by Hall's Trucking Company to carry 88,150 pounds more than the legal limit on March 7, 2004.
That day, the truck, carrying 150,150 pounds of coal on a road with a 62,000 pound weight limit, was involved in an accident that killed Preece. The driver, Blacklog resident Charles Wiley, Jr., hauling the load on a narrow two-lane highway from Appalachian Fuels in Hardy to Cattlettsburg, swerved suddenly and hit Preece's vehicle head-on. Wiley couldn't stop the truck because it was overloaded, authorities said.
Attorneys on both sides would not disclose the monetary amount of the settlement, which also included Appalachian Fuels' broker company, New River Energy Resources. Both companies agreed to pay Preece an undisclosed amount of compensation for their involvement in the crash, and the Pike County criminal case was dismissed against Sturgill. Assistant County Attorney Tommy Chamberlain, prosecuting both Pike County cases, agreed to fine Appalachian Fuels $235.50 for the violation after attorney Billy R. Shelton filed a notice of the negotiated settlement.
Shelton would not directly comment about the settlement, saying only that the civil suit is still pending against Wiley, the Inez-based Hall Trucking Company and its owner Robert Hall. The trial for the remaining defendants is scheduled to be held in Martin County in May 2007.
Attorney John W. Kirk, representing Preece, said he's seeking punitive damages from the remaining defendants. Though an agreement against Appalachian Fuels, Inc. and New Energy Resources was reached last week, the appropriate documentation has not been sent to the judge, he said.
Kirk said both companies “did the fair and just thing” by agreeing to settle with Preece.
If the wrongful death case against Appalachian Fuels and New River Energy Resources went to trial, it could have changed the way overweight trucking laws are carried out in the state. Kentucky Vehicle Enforcement officers only recently started citing coal companies for permitting the unlawful overloading of coal trucks.
Attorney Geoffrey Marsh, representing the remaining defendants in the civil case, did not return calls for comment.
Preece, 55, retired from the Martin County Coal Corporation and was the pastor at the Bethel United Baptist Church near Inez.