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The wrongful death lawsuit was brought by a construction worker’s family.
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
A little more than five years after construction worker Richard Slone was killed on the job in a traffic incident, a $10 million civil trial has begun against the two drivers convicted in his death — Jeffrey Dupree and Tracie Nininger.
The wrongful death case was slated to start Monday in Roanoke County Circuit Court, but a problem with jury selection delayed opening arguments until Tuesday afternoon.
The central issues in Nininger and Dupree’s 2008 criminal case emerged again in the civil case.
Plaintiffs attorney Neal Johnson told the seven jurors that just prior to Slone’s death, Nininger and Dupree had been videotaped falling-down drunk before they were ejected from a Roanoke restaurant.
He said the two friends had then driven, in separate SUVs, to southwest Roanoke County, where Slone had been part of a crew replacing underground water lines along Electric Road, between Starkey and Ogden roads.
Nininger, passing Slone’s construction site in her Hummer H3, struck a tractor blade and was then hit from behind by Dupree in his Chevrolet Avalanche, Johnson said. He said Slone was crushed against a nearby dump truck bed by both the blade and Nininger’s Hummer and died within minutes.
Later that year a judge found both Dupree and Nininger guilty of aggravated involuntary manslaughter and driving under the influence in the fatal wreck. He sentenced them each to serve two and a half years in prison, and in the aftermath of their convictions the pair were in and out of custody as they appealed.
Virginia Department of Corrections spokesman Larry Traylor said records indicated Nininger was released in April 2012, and Dupree completed his sentence in July of last year. Both are now on probation.
Soon after the criminal case closed, Slone’s estate filed a wrongful death suit against the pair, seeking $8 million in compensatory damages and $2 million in punitive damages.
At Tuesday’s trial, Johnson cited Slone’s two children — Sara, now 21, and Richard, 20.
“The greatest wish of those two … would be for the jury to right the injustice by returning their father to them,” he said. Barring that impossibility, he said, the incident “cries out for an award of punitive damages.”
Defense attorneys in the case renewed prior arguments that conditions in and around the site had caused the crash.
“There were a lot of factors that led to the accident,” Dupree’s lawyer, Sean Workowski, told jurors. “Jeffrey Dupree’s intoxication was not one of them.”
Both he and Nininger’s attorney, Christopher Owens, said a stalled piece of heavy equipment that night had forced the construction crew to change the nature of its work, but he said safety warnings hadn’t been properly raised to reflect the new operations.
“The question is not alcohol or being intoxicated,” Owens argued. “It’s: ‘Would any person have been reasonably put on notice there was going to be a landscape blade in the through lane?’ ”
Ray Sink Pipeline Co. is also listed in court records as a co-defendant in the case, but the plaintiff withdrew its complaint against the company in 2010.
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