Cordovas file wrongful death lawsuit against Lincoln County
Court documents allege son, Owen Cordova, died in a car crash last Sept. swerving to avoid head-on collision with County dump trucks
TINA L. SCOTT
Jeremy and Carrie Cordova, of Tomahawk, parents of Owen Cordova, a 16-year-old Merrill High School Junior who died on September 30, 2021, in an automobile accident, filed a personal injury and wrongful death lawsuit against Lincoln County, the County’s insurance carrier, and two Highway Department employees on June 21, 2022.
The couple, represented by Attorney Randy Frokjer of Tomahawk, previously filed a Notice of Claim and Circumstances with Lincoln County in January 2022 but received no response from the County. They are making a claim to Lincoln County for $500,000.00 for loss of society and companionship of a minor pursuant to Sec. 895.04(4), Wis. Stats., and for $9,531.12 for the costs of their son’s funeral, for a total of $509,531.12.
In their notice, the Cordovas allege that Lincoln County has the appearance of, or an actual, conflict of interest because the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) completed the Motor Vehicle Crash Report for the accident which involved a fatality and two Lincoln County employees. “The accident was not independently investigated, and access to key witnesses by the Cordovas and by West Bend Mutual Insurance Company, their insurance carrier, were denied,” the Notice of Circumstances filed in conjunction with the lawsuit reads.
The Notice further alleges that the accident involved two Lincoln County dump trucks, operated by Lincoln County Employees, that were northbound on State Highway 107 north of Merrill near the Grandfather Dam. Owen Cordova was driving southbound on the same highway when his vehicle left the roadway, striking two trees. The Notice alleges a pedestrian was walking on the east shoulder of the northbound lane and that the presence of the pedestrian and the two dump trucks factored into the crash.
A September 30, 2022, press release issued by the LCSO described the accident as a “one vehicle crash” and said: “The vehicle was reported to have left the road and collided with a number of trees. Speed is believed to be a factor in the crash.” It further said “The crash remains under investigation …”
The Cordovas say an independent investigation and accident reconstruction should have been conducted by the Wisconsin State Patrol. This was not done. Rather, the LCSO completed the crash report. Jeremy Cordova described this as “gross incompetence and negligence” on the part of the LCSO. The Cordovas also question why there was no follow-up with the media and why the LCSO release to the media never mentioned a pedestrian or the dump trucks at all.
The Cordovas hired their own accident investigator, Jeremy Cordova said, to do an independent accident reconstruction since the LCSO failed to do so. “Nothing about the accident and the shoddy police report made sense, so we had to contract a private firm to do an accident reconstruction,” he said. “This reconstruction showed at least one of the Lincoln County Highway Department dump trucks were operating almost fully in Owen’s lane on a blind corner and forced him off the road.”
“When we investigated the accident scene, forensic evidence tells us that one or both Lincoln County dump trucks were negligently traveling in the opposite (southbound) lane on a hill and corner at the accident scene,” the Notice of Circumstances further reads.
“Recent, noticeable braking marks for a truck with double/dual tires, matching the braking system for the Lincoln County dump trucks, was readily observed at the accident scene. None of the brake marks, showing braking for both sides of the vehicle, are in the northbound lane. The Lincoln County dump truck or trucks were traveling in the southbound (opposite) lane. The brake marks actually moved somewhat to the west as they proceed north in the southbound lane.”
The Notice continues: “Owen Cordova, operating a vehicle in the southbound lane, had a choice of either hitting the dump truck or trucks head-on, or taking evasive action and trying to avoid the accident by hitting the shoulder/ditch.”
“The latter action, taking evasive action to avoid the accident, was taken by Owen Cordova. The shoulder/ditch of the southbound lane was more level where Owen Cordova left the highway, but became steeper as his vehicle went south, eventually pulling the vehicle off of the shoulder/ditch area and into two trees.”
The next two paragraphs summarize the alleged cause and effect: “The Accident Report confirms that a person was walking on the east shoulder of the northbound lane. Both employees of Lincoln County admit to moving over for the pedestrian. The narrative alleged by Lincoln County does not match the forensic evidence on-site. The braking marks occur for a considerable distance in Owen Cordova’s southbound lane immediately before Owen Cordova’s vehicle tracks show that his vehicle took evasive action by driving onto the shoulder/ditch to avoid a head-on collision.”
“Both Lincoln County employees were negligent in not slowing down on a corner, with a hill, when confronted with a pedestrian on the highway edge. Their negligence caused the accident. Lincoln County is legally responsible for the actions of their employees in the course of employment.”
This narrative forms the basis of the allegations that make up the lawsuit.
The defendants in the case, represented by Attorney Thomas J. Donnelly of the Grady, Hayes & Neary LLC law firm of Waukesha, filed an Answer and Affirmative Defenses on July 1 saying they “deny the characterization of the accident is accurate” and “deny allegations of negligence and causation.” The Answer assigns the blame for the accident to 16-year-old Owen Cordova who died in the crash. That Answer also alleges that “by the negligence of other individuals/entities” … “plaintiffs have failed to join all necessary and indispensable parties” to the suit “with the result that plaintiffs’ Complaint must be dismissed,” among other defenses. The Answer asks the court to dismiss the case and award them costs, disbursements, and attorney fees.
Lincoln County Corporation Counsel, Karry A. Johnson, declined to comment on the case saying, “It is the County’s policy not to comment on pending litigation matters.”
Lincoln County’s newest judge, Judge Galen Bayne-Allison, has been assigned to the case.