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Jury awards $18M to family of man killed in Central Point

A Dallas, Texas, jury has awarded $20 million in damages following the death of Hunter Brown, who was killed in 2017 by a Greyhound bus as he ran to catch it at a Central Point rest stop.

The jury voted 10-2 and found Greyhound Lines, based in Dallas, responsible for Brown’s death. They awarded his parents, Dr. Barry Brown and Paula Becker, $18 million in compensatory damages, finding that Greyhound’s negligence caused their son’s death.

The jury assigned 90% of the responsibility for the fatal crash to Greyhound and 10% to Hunter Brown, meaning Greyhound will keep $2 million in damages.

Jane Paulson, an attorney for the Browns, said they hoped the lawsuit would get Greyhound to change its policies.

“The family wanted answers and to make sure this never happened to another family,” Paulson said.

Brown, 25, was a passenger on a Greyhound bound for San Francisco on June 29, 2019. The Seattle resident had gotten off the bus at a Pilot Travel Center rest stop in Central Point around 1 a.m., and the driver, Arthur Coley, told passengers that they would depart at 1:30 a.m. and that if they weren’t on the bus, he would leave them behind.

Brown and several other passengers got off the bus and went inside the truck stop to get food. At some point before 1:30 a.m., Coley got back on the bus and honked the horn. Several passengers told Coley it was not yet 1:30, and that several passengers were not back on the bus. According to the suit, Coley told them he would “go by his time, not theirs,” and started driving away, preparing to make a wide right turn onto the road.

At that time, Brown ran up to the side of the bus, banged on the door and begged Coley to let him on. According to the suit, Coley looked out the door at him and continued turning the bus directly toward him. The bus knocked Brown off balance and he fell to the ground. He was run over by the front right side tires of the bus.

According to the suit, Coley only stopped the bus after the passengers heard a “thump thump.” He walked down to the bottom step, looked out the door and said “Where the hell did he go?” One of the passengers screamed that he had run over Brown.

Coley refused to let any of the passengers off to help Brown and instructed them to stay on the bus. He called 911, and medics found Brown dead behind the wheels of the bus near the door. His cause of death was blunt-force trauma.

The lawsuit alleges that Coley violated Greyhound’s safety rule, which states that drivers will station themselves at the door and help passengers board, cautioning them to watch their step. It also states that Coley violated the company’s rule by not accounting for Brown’s presence before he left, and if he had, Brown would not have been run over.

The lawsuit states that Coley took over the Seattle-San Francisco route in Portland on June 28 and arrived 90 minutes late for his shift. According to passengers, he was clearly exhausted and agitated when he arrived and was hostile with passengers. Those on board saw Coley fighting with a passenger about an unopened beer and felt his reaction was irrational.

The suit says that Coley had already driven 9.5 hours when he arrived for the shift that day, which the company’s central dispatch in Dallas should have known, as it as responsible for assigning routes to drivers nationwide.

Paulson said the case was even more egregious because after Brown’s death, the company did not fire or discipline Coley. According to attorneys, Coley was only fired later for an unrelated encounter, where he allegedly smashed the cellphone of a passenger who was taking video of him being rude to other passengers.

“Greyhound did an investigation and said what he did was reasonable,” Paulson said. “They said it was not a preventable accident and he continued to drive for Greyhound.”

She said Coley admitted in his deposition that he did not do a head count, as is Greyhound’s policy before leaving a stop.

“He admitted he was not going to stop for Hunter,” she said.

Passengers saw Coley do several alarming things before the fatal crash, the suit says.

Shortly after leaving Portland, passengers say Coley put the bus in park while still on the road near a light and took a bathroom break just before entering the highway. According to the suit, Greyhound’s rule book does not allow drivers to make such unplanned stops.

At a scheduled stop later in the trip, Coley got in a fight with several teenage passengers. He left the teens at the rest stop in the dark and drove away with their baggage still on board.

Paulson said that several months before Brown was killed, an independent contractor who works with Greyhound took the bus with her sister. They rode a bus driven by Coley, and the employee’s sister got out at a rest stop to use the bathroom. The employee reported that Coley left the stop early and did not wait for her sister. She also reported that Coley refused to let her off so that she could be with her sister.

“Inevitably someone else was going to get hurt or killed,” Paulson said. “They wanted to make sure that changes.”