BRIGHAM CITY -- A jury has decided that the Utah Department of Transportation is not at fault in the deaths of former Bear River City Council member Glenada "Butch" Iverson and her husband, Carter.
The Iversons died July 4, 2005, when their car was struck head-on by a truck driven by Eli Rodgers, who entered State Route 13 via a one-way ramp at Sugar Factory Road in Garland that was not intended for use as a point of entry.
Their daughter, Joni Iverson, of Ogden, filed a civil lawsuit in the First District Court, alleging the death of her parents stemmed from the negligence of both UDOT and Box Elder County. She was seeking a $5 million award if the jury found UDOT at fault.
Assistant Attorney General Steve Combe presented closing arguments in the case Thursday afternoon.
"The two parties that were at fault are Box Elder County -- they did not keep those Do Not Enter signs up," said Combe. "And the second is Eli Rodgers -- he is distracted, he's angry and ... he makes it worse -- much, much worse -- when he guns it, guns it into oncoming traffic."
The lawsuit claimed that UDOT failed to design the safest possible road, properly sign the road or maintain easily visible paint markings on the road to direct traffic "towards safety and away from danger."
Attorney Peter Summerill, representing Joni Iverson and the Iverson estate, said he felt testimony clearly showed that the county owned the road, but UDOT had a right-of-way that placed responsibility for signs and painting on the state. In addition, there was a deed recorded in the Box Elder County Courthouse in 1994 that indicated the state has ownership of the road.
However, Combe presented an agreement between UDOT and Box Elder County that specifically assigned ownership and maintenance of the road to the county.
Aside from the ownership dispute, Combe said Eli Rodgers was an individual with questionable credibility, whose demeanor was "cold and calloused" at the scene of the accident.
According to Combe, testimony showed that Rodgers was angry and distracted at the time of the collision. He testified in court that he did not see the yellow lines that would have guided his direction of travel. A passenger alerted Rodgers that he was driving the wrong direction on a one-way road, and he had to make a split-second decision.
"He does the unimaginable and he guns it," said Combe. "Not only does he gun it, he does it from a position where he is blind (and can not see oncoming traffic)."
Kristin Van Orman of Salt Lake City represented Box Elder County. The case against the county was dismissed after a settlement was reached, but Van Orman would not release the details. However, she did say the county did not admit liability.
"But, they took into consideration that two people lost their lives," she said.
Instead, she said the fault was strictly with Eli Rodgers.
"One second of braking would have prevented this accident," Van Orman said.
Because they felt there could be some risk involved by going to trial, she said the county made a business decision to agree to a settlement out of court.
The jury deliberated for about 90 minutes before returning to the courtroom with its decision.