Lawsuits: Ohio National Guard's negligence led to Humvee crash that killed man, son
By ERIC HEISIG | Advance Ohio Media | Published: April 13, 2019
CLEVELAND, Ohio (Tribune News Service) — The Ohio National Guard faces two lawsuits over a crash involving one of its Humvees that killed a Berea man and his six-year-old son in September 2016.
The lawsuits, recently filed in federal court in Cleveland, say the U.S. government is liable because Pfc. Jeremy Taylor was sleep deprived and inexperienced when he veered left of center on State Route 14 in Ravenna Township.
Taylor first hit an oncoming car and then slammed head-on into a car driven by Brian Bargar, a lawsuit filed this week by Bargar's estate says.
Bargar, 34, and his son, Wyatt Bentley, died in the crash.
Brittany Bentley, Wyatt's mother, filed suit on behalf of her son's estate on March 27.
Bargar's estate seeks damages of more than $19.5 million. Bentley's estate seeks $6 million. Both filed claims with the Army but did not hear back within a six-month time frame.
Taylor, 22, of University Heights, pleaded guilty in Portage County Municipal Court to vehicular homicide and vehicular manslaughter, both misdemeanors. A judge sentenced him in February to a year in jail and suspended all but 60 days of the jail term.
The crash was not an unfortunate accident, but rather was "caused by the Army National Guard's leadership and planning failures," Bargar's lawsuit says.
John Reagan, an attorney for Brittany Bentley, said that "the irony in this whole thing is that the National Guard is supposed to protect the public." He said the crash has been devastating for his client.
Bargar's estate's lawsuit says Taylor arrived at the Newton Falls Armory at 8 a.m. Sept. 9, 2016. Lights out for the soldiers that night was at midnight.
Taylor and other soldiers awoke at 3 a.m. Sept. 10, 2016. They left Newton Falls an hour and a half later in a four-vehicle convoy for Camp Perry, near Port Clinton. Taylor drove one of the Humvees, the suit states.
The soldiers trained for eight hours and were supposed to stay there overnight and return to Newton Falls the following day, according to the lawsuit.
Instead, the convoy headed east Saturday afternoon and drove in a rainstorm. The crash happened shortly after 6 p.m., the lawsuit states.
A school bus pulled in front of the Humvee and Taylor swerved into the opposite lane and side-swiped a car driven by Lisa Mancini, even though Taylor had plenty of time to slow down to avoid the bus, the lawsuit states. He then hit Bargar's car.
The lawsuit says Taylor had been awake for at least 15 hours by the time the crash happened. It says investigators found empty energy drink cans inside the Humvee.
The Army's accident safety investigation unit cited multiple instances of leadership failure, which included allowing Taylor just three hours of sleep or less before making him endure a long day of training and having him drive back, the suit states.
"The biggest public safety issue is the military is putting these large military vehicles on civilian roadways, often with sleep deprived soldiers," said Tom Merriman, an attorney representing Bargar's estate. "It may make sense for combat, but not for civilian roadway when people are out with their kids."
Bargar is survived by his four children.
National Guard spokeswoman Stephanie Beougher said attorneys had not yet received summonses for the lawsuits. She said the National Guard does not comment on pending litigation.
Mancini, the driver in the car Taylor sideswiped, also is expected to file suit soon, Reagan said. A phone call left for her attorney was not returned immediately.