News and Tribune

July 24, 2013

Sellersburg Fire Dept. on trial

Deceased woman’s estate seeking damages from accident

By GARY POPP
gary.popp@newsandtribune.com

JEFFERSONVILLE — The estate of a 75-year-old woman killed in a 2009 vehicle collision involving an ambulance is seeking damages from the Sellersburg Volunteer Fire Department in an ongoing civil trial in Clark County.

Opal Couch, Jeffersonville, was killed after a SVFD ambulance “doing business as” a Clark County EMS struck the side of her Lincoln passenger car about 2 p.m. on July 4 in an intersection on Lewis and Clark Parkway near Bob Evans restaurant.

The driver of the ambulance, Travis Herthel, testified in Judge Jacobi’s Circuit Court No. 2 Wednesday that Couch’s vehicle was stopped in the intersection when the ambulance approached.

Herthel is not a current employee of the SVFD and Clark County EMS was dissolved in early 2012, after it was sold to a Louisville emergency response agency.

Herthel testified he made the decision to enter the intersection, although he believed the light was red, by which time Couch had continued the attempted turn through the intersection.

“[Couch’s] vehicle was stopped,” Herthel testified. “That’s why I continued through the intersection. I had no reason to think it [the vehicle] would continue through the intersection.”

He said that he was traveling in “emergency pace” with the ambulance’s sirens and lights active, but according to the complaint, filed by attorney Charles Guilfoyle, the ambulance did not have its lights and sirens activated when the collision occurred.

Herthel explained further that he was traveling in a left lane of Lewis and Clark Parkway, and that Couch’s vehicle was at a stop and partially in the intersection.

“She was far enough to the right, I could have proceeded to the left and driven around her,” he testified.

Herthel said on the day of the accident the roads were wet after hours of light rain and the road’s condition resulted in a more severe impact.

“I don’t think we slowed down much after hitting the brakes and making impact,” he said.

The SVFD is being represented by attorney Rodney Scott of Jeffersonville. Guilfoyle is the special administrator of Couch’s estate, but the acting attorneys are from Macon, Ga., where Couch is from.

The Georgia attorney, whose name was not available, pointed out the inconsistency of the rate of speed Herthel reported he was traveling to investigating officers and during a deposition provided in May 2011.

Herthel admitted that the record correctly represents he told an investigator he was traveling approximately 60 mph, then reported to a second investigator he was traveling between 50 and 60 mph, and told a third investigator he was traveling about 50 mph.

During the deposition, Herthel said he was traveling between 35 and 40 mph.

The attorney also got Herthel to admit that EMS driver training teaches drivers to stop at all red lights, even while responding to an emergency.

One of the attorneys representing Couch’s estate said after the day’s hearing that evidence hints that Couch was on a cell phone when the accident took place.

Closing arguments are expected Thursday, at which time the plaintiff’s attorney will make a monetary suggestion to the six-person jury if they find the SFVD to pay damages.

Attorneys did not disclose the amount of damages they will suggest the jurors.