Lawsuit blames state for deadly 2015 van crash

Posted at 5:53 PM, Apr 20, 2016

It was the van crash that left a congregation of the most faithful, nearly losing faith.

Now, more than one year after the Florida Highway Patrol pointed blame at the van driver for the crash that killed 8 and injured 10 Fort Pierce churchgoers in Glades County, a new lawsuit accuses the Florida Department of Transportation and Better Roads Inc. of causing the deadly crash.

"This was a very dangerous and unsafe intersection," said Scott Smith of the law firm Lytal, Reiter, Smith, Ivey & Fronrath.  Smith is representing six of those passengers injured in the crash and the families of 4 passengers who died in the March 30, 2015 crash.

In the newly filed lawsuit against FDOT and Better Roads Inc, Smith alleges that the T-shaped intersection had been neglected and lacked basic safety measures to keep drivers safe.  For example, he says, the stop sign at the intersection of US 27 and SR 78 wasn’t visible in the rural area where traffic lights are nonexistent.  According to the FHP, the driver of that van, 58-year-old Volsaint Marsaille, drove through the stop sign and plunged into the canal located in front of the intersection.

>> RELATED: Download the WPTV app for breaking news alerts

“Yes, at the time he did through the stop sign.  The stop sign wasn't even visible to this man,” said Smith who also referenced an independent report conducted by an engineering firm for FDOT shortly after the crash.

The report showed between 2009-2013, the number of crashes at the intersection was higher than average when compared to similar intersections.  According to the report, had safety measures been in place, the group, HNTB Corporation also concluded more than 60% of those crashes could have been prevented.

No one disputes the 15- person van was also overloaded with passengers at the time of the crash and most of its seatbelts weren't working, but Smith argues those details did not contribute to the tragedy.

"This vehicle didn't cause the trap, the lack of someone wearing seatbelts didn't cause this dangerous intersection.  The root cause of this crash was the failure, the neglect of FDOT and Better Roads Inc. to properly maintain this intersection.  That's the bottom line, period, end of conversation,” he said.

Today new safety strips line the road leading up to the intersection and a flashing light has been installed to also warn drivers of the upcoming stop sign.  It’s all measures Smith is fighting to now prove would have made all the difference one year ago.

"This van would have made it back to Fort Pierce and the 8 people would be with their families today and the injured dealing with catastrophic injuries wouldn’t have to suffer for the rest of their lives," he said.

According to a spokesperson with the Florida Department of Transportation, the department does not comment on pending litigation.