SCRANTON — Six women and two men are expected to begin deliberations today in a civil suit over a car crash in the Kuwaiti desert that led to the deaths of two Luzerne County Naval reservists.
Closing statements wrapped up Thursday in U.S. District Court in the case, in which the families of Brian M. Patton and David Morgan are suing a California-based civilian contractor and one of its employees over a Nov. 19, 2009 crash. The trial began on March 6.
U.S. District Judge Edwin M. Kosik is scheduled to give jurors instructions when court resumes this morning in Scranton.
Morgan Lee Hanks, then 24, a Virginia man who worked as a dog trainer for CSA, was trying to pass a convoy of six buses and two SUVs along a two-lane desert road when his vehicle collided with Patton’s SUV as both swerved into the sand to avoid a crash.
Patton, 37, of Nanticoke, was killed in the crash. His passenger, David Morgan, of Wilkes-Barre, suffered traumatic brain injuries. Morgan died of complications last August at the age of 38.
Attorneys for the reservists’ families argued that Hanks’ decision to pass at a high rate of speed, without adequate ability to see oncoming traffic on the road, led to the wreck.
Attorneys for CSA and Hanks sought to demonstrate that the road is straight and not as hilly as portrayed and that Hanks’ speed cannot be proven.
The key element in their argument, however, has been that Hanks did attempt to merge back onto his side of the road but was prevented from doing so by convoy drivers who failed to maintain enough distance between vehicles, despite military orders requiring them to do so.
“This is a tragedy,” said attorney Evan Eisner, who is representing CSA. “If this case were about sympathy and the loss, there would be no trial.”
But, Eisner told jurors, “the only substantial cause of this collision was because the 100-meter gap between the buses” was not maintained as per orders. Instead, as previous testimony revealed, the gap at times was as little as 10 to 15 meters between the last two buses, or roughly 30 to 50 feet.
“ In his heart and in his mind, Morgan Hanks cannot imagine the events of this accident are his fault,” said his attorney, John Bongiovanni, who cited testimony that passing drivers along the road typically “leapfrog” in and out of convoys when it is safe to do so and there is a sufficient gap.
Attorney William Anzalone, representing the Patton family, argued that Hanks needs to be held accountable for his actions, regardless of whether the convoy drivers followed their own rules.
“Mr. Hanks wants to place blame on everyone else. He refuses to accept blame for this collision,” Anzalone said.
Pitch to jury
Anzalone and attorney David Pennington, representing the Morgans, also said the families didn’t come to court for sympathy.
In his closing, Pennington showed video of a disabled Morgan being washed and tended to in a hospital bed, at one point choking loudly as fluids accumulated in his throat.
“You saw four minutes of video,” Pennington told jurors. “He was locked in that broken body for 45 months.”
“We’re not asking for sympathy. We do not need to ask for sympathy,” Pennington said. “We’re asking you to bring in a very large verdict” for Morgan’s family and his young daughter, Ariana.