It's been one year since Kentucky truck driver Ben Brewer crashed his rig into slowed and stopped traffic on Interstate 75 in Ooltewah on June 25, 2015, killing six people.
And little has been resolved.
Brewer sits in the Hamilton County Jail awaiting the start of his November trial, with no option to bond out. He faces six counts of vehicular homicide and four counts of reckless aggravated assault.
Death on the Highway
And Cool Runnings Express, the small trucking company Brewer worked for at the time of the crash, is still operating.
Up until this week, a handful of complaints seeking $33.5 million in damages had been filed in federal court against Brewer, Cool Runnings and its operators, Billy and Cretty Sizemore, by victims and families of victims impacted by the crash.
But with the one-year window to file lawsuits coming to a close this week, new complaints emerged in Hamilton County Circuit Court, and with them, new allegations against previously unnamed parties - and new claims that improper road construction and negligence by a major goods carrier may have played important parts in the crash.
Marten Transportation, a Wisconsin-based provider of refrigerated truck services, is named as a defendant in all three new complaints filed earlier this week. Marten reportedly subcontracted work to Cool Runnings to deliver goods for national food chain Darden Restaurants, which operates Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse, among others.
Brewer was reportedly carrying a time-sensitive load for Cool Runnings under the Marten subcontract when he far exceeded federal truck safety regulations and remained on duty for 50 hours on his way from Kentucky to Florida before returning and crashing in Chattanooga, according to court documents.
According to a complaint filed by Patricia Ramos, the mother of crash victim Jason Ramos, Brewer was required to check in with Marten daily on his Kentucky-to-Florida-and-back trip, which was his first job as a Cool Runnings Express driver.
The complaint alleges Brewer checked in regularly with Marten. If so, it would mean the 8,000-tractor trucking company would have known Brewer's whereabouts on his trip and that he was violating federal duty regulations by staying on duty for 50 consecutive hours.
Also, the complaint says Marten and Cool Runnings officials "failed to take any reasonable action to mitigate the danger to the public, including danger to the decedents herein, that they created by pushing their driver beyond human limits and thereby all continued in the conspiracy to violate the law in violation of their duties to operate safely and not endanger the motoring public."
Marten and Cool Runnings Express officials were unavailable for comment Friday.
Meanwhile, the new court cases also name local firm Talley Construction Co. and Nashville-based Superior Traffic Control Inc. as defendants in the June 2015 crash.
All three lawsuits allege the road construction, which slowed and stopped traffic near Exit 11 on I-75 on June 25, 2015, was happening at an unauthorized time and that construction and traffic planning and control at the site were inadequate.
A lengthy complaint brought by the father of two girls, Kelsie and Savannah Garrigues, who were killed alongside their mother and grandmother in the crash, alleges the construction zone near Exit 11 was established "at an unauthorized and dangerous time."
"The [defendants] established or attempted to establish a construction zone at a time when the traffic volume on Interstate 75 northbound was too heavy to permit the safe establishment of a construction zone," the complaint alleges.
The complaint also alleges construction work was supposed to be confined to the period from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. at the site. The crash occurred earlier in the evening.
Tennessee Department of Transportation officials said inspectors investigated the crash site in the days after the crash and found proper signage and construction protocol.
Jennifer Flynn, spokeswoman for TDOT, said Friday "our inspectors and our safety coordinator reviewed and documented the traffic control that was in place for the nighttime paving project that was underway on I-75" to make sure it matched up with federal regulations.
She said overhead signs, two advance warning trucks and a Tennessee Highway Patrol cruiser with flashing lights were also present to warn traffic to slow down entering the construction zone. TDOT's findings were turned over to National Transportation Safety Board investigators, Flynn said.
Officials with Talley Construction and Superior declined to comment, citing legal concerns over a pending case.
Combined, damages sought by all three new complaints total $180 million. Nicholas Garrigues, father of the two young girls killed in the crash, is seeking a total $110 million; Patricia Ramos is seeking $50 million; and Rick Watts, stepfather of the two young girls killed and husband of the girls' mother, Tiffany Watts, who was also killed in the crash, is seeking $20 million in damages.
All told, damages sought by all parties stemming from the 2015 crash total more than $210 million.
Contact staff writer Alex Green at email@example.com or 423-757-6480.