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Tow company, clubs settle suit over 2013 crash death


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PEABODY — Just as jury selection was about to get underway in Salem Superior Court Monday, lawyers for a towing company and the mother of a man who was decapitated when the car he was riding in crashed into the back of a poorly-marked flatbed truck, reached a settlement in the case. 

The terms of the settlement were not disclosed. 

 

Daniel Walker was 31 years old and lived alone with his mother when he and longtime friend Michael Fowler went out for a night of darts and drinking back on May 23, 2013. 

 

Over the course of the evening, which stretched into the early morning hours of May 24, 2013, the two men went to three different bars. As Fowler drove down Walnut Street in Peabody, he struck the flatbed Hino truck owned by Phil's Towing and Recovery. 

 

Fowler, who later testified in a deposition that he'd consumed 27 drinks, pleaded guilty the following year and was sentenced to 2 1/2 to three years in state prison for manslaughter. 

 

In 2015, lawyers Terry Kennedy and Scott Gediman filed suit against Fowler, as well as the towing company and the three bars — Courthouse Pub, the Swampscott VFW Post 1240 and the Salem Lodge 218 of the Loyal Order of Moose.

 

The suit alleged that Fowler had been grossly over-served alcohol at all three establishments in the hours before the crash — a "waterfall" of alcohol, Kennedy had called it. The suit also alleged that the tow truck, which was parked overnight on the street in violation of a city ordinance, had multiple safety defects including a lack of reflective markings on the rear of the bed. 

 

By the time the trial was set to get underway this week, the three bars had reached settlements with Walker's mother, Diane. 

 

Judge William Barrett questioned why the towing company hadn't reached a settlement. "I've seen this case before," Barrett told the attorneys, Jay Lynch and Ben Whitney. 

 

Lynch told the judge that without knowing how much the other defendants in the case had offered as settlements, he did not want to negotiate. 

 

Kennedy told the judge he did not want to name a figure and end up bidding against himself. He also criticized the insurer, Safety, accusing the firm of "not taking this case seriously," and offering "very tiny money." 

 

"You two have been around the block 100 million times," Barrett told the lawyers, shortly before asking them to talk some more while court officers and a clerk collected and assembled juror questionnaires. 

About an hour later the lawyers returned to the courtroom, where Kennedy disclosed that they were closer but not in agreement. The judge then sent the lawyers back out to a conference room. About 15 minutes later they were back to tell the judge they had reached a settlement. 

 

Lynch, on behalf of the towing company, declined to comment, citing the confidentiality clause in the settlement, 

 

"No amount of money can replace her son," Kennedy said outside court after speaking with Diane Walker. "Hopefully the amount of the settlements will send a message to establishments that they're going to be held responsible when a tragedy happens because someone was over-served, and a reminder for people who own commercial vehicles that are inherently dangerous that they have to be more conscious of the danger they present." 

 

Less than a year before the Peabody crash, a Danvers man was killed while riding in a car driven by a Salem woman on Boston Street in Salem, when she collided with the rear of a flatbed tow truck. The two crashes were just a few short blocks apart. 

 

However, lawyers for All-Star Towing were able to convince a Salem Superior Court judge to dismiss a civil lawsuit that was based on a claim that the tow company was negligent because the truck was parked in violation of a city ordinance. The Appeals Court upheld that dismissal, agreeing that the rationale behind the ordinance was more about aesthetics than public safety. 

 

During Monday's proceedings in the Phil's Towing case, the judge alluded to that case and, prior to the settlement being reached, asked for more information. 

 

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