Chicago Tribune 07-23-2003 (Van Rollover)

Chicago Tribune 07-23-2003 (Van Rollover)

Van owner sued over boy’s death

1st lawsuit filed in weekend rollover

By Brett McNeil
Tribune Staff Reporter

Lawyers for a woman whose 8-month-old boy was killed in a van crash outside Kankakee last weekend filed a lawsuit Tuesday accusing the van’s owner, driver and bus company of negligence and wrongful death.

The suit, filed on behalf of Mayra Hernandez, 23, by Chicago attorney Thomas A. Zimmerman Jr., is the first related to the early morning crash Saturday that killed two boys, including Hernandez’s son, Desmond Brown Jr., and injured 16 other passengers.

It seeks in excess of $50,000 in damages from South Side resident George Willis, the van’s owner; Douglas King, its driver; and Chicago-based Willis Bus Service Inc. Neither Willis nor King could be reached for comment.

According to Illinois State Police investigators, the van was overcrowded at the time of the accident and King was driving without the proper license.

In January a Cook County jury awarded $18 million to victims and family members of a 1998 crash involving a Willis-owned van that killed one woman and injured several other people.

Hernandez, who was in the van Saturday when it careened off a stretch of Interstate Highway 57 south of Kankakee, appeared at an afternoon news conference dressed in black. Her eyes were bruised and swollen, and she walked with a limp.

Hernandez said that in making plans to visit her fiancé at Big Muddy River Correctional Center in Downstate Illinois, she asked a Willis bus company dispatcher if she could bring along child safety seats for her son and daughter, Destiny Brown, 2.

“They said we couldn’t bring [them] … there was not going to be enough room,” Hernandez said. “I was not OK with it, but the reason I went is that my fiancé has been in jail since January and he has not seen his kids.”

According to Hernandez, Desmond rode on her lap, and her fiancé’s mother, Rosetta Miller, held Destiny. All four were thrown from the van when its roof was sheared off after hitting a highway sign.

Desmond died at the scene. Miller is in critical condition at St. Mary’s Hospital in Kankakee. After spending more than two days at the University of Chicago Hospitals, Destiny was released Tuesday, Hernandez said.

“You’ve got a van that’s overcrowded and they’re refusing to allow people to bring on child safety seats,” Zimmerman said. “All of that adds up to really a reckless behavior on the part of this company and its owner.”

Iroquois County State’s Attorney James Devine said he was waiting for Illinois State Police to complete their investigation before deciding whether to file charges.

Chicago Tribune 07-23-2003 (Van Rollover) [PDF Download]

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