SEATTLE — A teenage girl, the lone survivor of a 2017 triple-fatality car crash just outside Lynnwood, has filed a lawsuit against major trucking companies.
The complaint, filed on May 20 in King County Superior Court, alleges the companies’ neglect led to the deadly accident involving a car full of teenagers which rammed a trailer parked along Alderwood Mall Parkway.
The lawsuit names as defendants Wabash National Corp., the manufacturer of the trailer; Trillium Management Inc. and McKinney Vehicle Services Inc., which owned the trailer; Key Trucking Inc., which hired the driver who parked the trailer; SP Trucking, the driver’s personal business; and Spirit Transport Systems Inc., which owned an unrelated truck parked nearby.
The estate of Landon Staley, who was 16 and lived in Everett when he died, also was named as a defendant. He was driving a Kia Sorento on July 26, 2017, at an estimated 56 mph when it slammed into the trailer in the 16900 block of Alderwood Mall Parkway. The vehicle went beneath the trailer’s undercarriage, instantly killing Staley and two others — Mikayla Sorenson, 15, of Bothell, and Travin Nelson-Phongphiou, 16, of Everett.
Kiley O’Laughlin, then 15, was transported to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle with life-threatening injuries to her head, face and torso. It took her well over a year to recover.
After an investigation, the sheriff’s office concluded that marijuana, speeding and inexperience likely contributed to the crash. Staley only had an intermediate license and wasn’t supposed to carry passengers. Detectives couldn’t say what caused the teen driver to drift off the road in the first place.
The lawsuit filed by O’Laughlin suggests much of the blame also rests on the companies that allowed a driver to park his trailer backward, against government regulations — decreasing its visibility and increasing risk to other drivers. The trailer had visibility tape on the back, but not the front. And the driver didn’t place any emergency lighting when he left his vehicle unattended.
The semi’s driver was cited for a parking infraction. So far, no companies have stepped up to take any responsibility, said O’Laughlin’s attorney, Chris Davis, of the Davis Law Group in Seattle.
Davis said the trucking industry has known “for a very long, long time” that trucks or trailers parked on road shoulders are hazards to drivers. He called this case especially egregious because the trailer was parked backward, allowing the car to hit the undercarriage. The vehicle’s top was sheared off. Had the trailer been parked forward, there was a higher likelihood that the car’s driver would have seen the trailer and not run into it, Davis said.
Furthermore, Davis said, Snohomish County didn’t properly enforce the rules on that stretch of Alderwood, where truckers had grown accustomed to parking.
“It was only a matter of time before something like this was going to happen,” Davis said. He said he would amend the complaint to add the county as a defendant.
So far, no one has offered an explanation why the trailer was parked on the shoulder.
“But we know why,” Davis said. “… It was the easiest and cheapest thing to do for them.”
Parking on the side of the road, rather than at parking facilities specified for trucks, is more convenient, Davis said.
“In my experience, especially with the trucking industry, when safety rules or safety regulations are violated or skirted, it is almost always for financial reasons,” he said.
In a few months, O’Laughlin will turn 18. She’s recovered from her physical injuries after more than a year of treatment and more than $100,000 in medical bills. But she still struggles with post traumatic stress disorder and other emotional trauma related to the crash and the loss of her three friends.
“This young girl’s life has been completely changed,” Davis said.