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Civil suit filed in fatal I-65 crash

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Michigan-based driver, trucking company accused of negligence

By Sarah Bennett

A Michigan business and truck driver are the subjects of a lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court on behalf of a Wisconsin family killed in a fiery wreck last month on Interstate 65 between Sonora and Glendale.

Driver Ibrahim Fetic, 47, of Hamtramck, Mich., and Highway Star, Inc., a trucking company based in Oak Park, Mich., are accused of negligence. Highway Star faces an additional allegation of vicarious liability.

The civil complaint filed in the U.S. District Court of Western Kentucky alleges the negligent conduct of the defendants resulted in “the tragic and wrongful deaths” of James Gollnow, 62, Barbara Gollnow, 62, Sereena Gollnow, 18, and Marion Champnoise, 92.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of administrators of the crash victims’ estates.

A civil complaint represents one point of view in a lawsuit. Defendants have not yet responded to the complaint.

The Gollnows, Champnoise and four foster children — Hope Hoth, 15, Aidian Ejnik, 12, Gabriel Zumiga, 10, and Soledad Smith, 8 — were returning March 2 from a trip to Orlando, Fla., when Fetic struck the rear of the family’s 1999 Ford Expedition, according to Kentucky State Police Post 4.

The SUV ignited upon impact, police said. Only Hope and Aidian escaped the blaze and were flown to Lexington and Louisville with serious injuries.

According to the complaint, Fetic caused the wreck as he was operating his vehicle in an “unsafe manner” and failed to observe traffic had slowed.

The plaintiffs allege Fetic was operating in “gross violation” of the excess of maximum service hours as regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which sets a cap at 70 hours in eight consecutive work days.

According to the complaint, Fetic recorded a total of at least 88.25 hours in the eight-day period before March 2.

“At the time of the collision, the defendant, Fetic, was maintaining two sets of driver log books in an effort to hide information from regulatory agencies, specifically, that he was driving in excess of maximum hours of service,” the document reads.

Fetic’s actions resulted in “driver fatigue,” according to the complaint, and the driver was operating the semi truck in “a careless and reckless disregard for the lives and safety of other persons on the highway.”

Because Highway Star employed Fetic, the plaintiffs allege the trucking company is liable for its employee’s actions and therefore negligent in its hiring and training of Fetic.

The plaintiffs are asking for punitive damages and a trial by jury.

On March 21, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued an order for Highway Star and Fetic to cease all commercial vehicle operations and referred to the driver and trucking company as “imminent (hazards) to public safety.”

According to the order, Highway Star lacked a log-monitoring system that can detect and prevent falsification by drivers.

Following the March 2 wreck in Hardin County, safety officials reviewed the trucking company and discovered Fetic as well as other company drivers were falsifying their records by comparing their logs with GPS devices and fuel purchase receipts, according to the order.

According to the safety administration, Kentucky State Police troopers discovered two log books in Fetic’s vehicle.

On Wednesday, Post 4 spokesman Norman Chaffins said state police are waiting for toxicology results but intend to present their investigation to the Hardin County grand jury.

Chaffins declined to comment on what the potential charges could be and said it is up to the grand jurors if and what charges will be filed.

Sarah Bennett can be reached at (270) 505-1750 or sbennett@thenewsenterprise.com.