Josh Shaffer and Michael Gordon The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

RALEIGH, N.C. — A jury awarded $7 million Friday to a North Carolina state trooper seriously injured in a Christmas Eve crash in 2014 when a Greyhound bus slammed into his SUV on Interstate 40.

Trooper Chris Justice was investigating a fatal accident in Alamance County when the bus plowed into the scene despite numerous emergency vehicles with lights flashing, said Alex Heroy, his attorney.

Justice and his wife Lisa received the jury’s award for compensatory damages after a two-week federal trial in New Bern. The trooper remains unable to work due to back, neck and mental injuries and will never be able to rejoin the Highway Patrol.

“The jury was emotional when the verdict was read, just like we were,” said Heroy with the Charlotte firm James, McElroy and Diehl. “He got creamed by a bus going almost 70 mph. We know what happens to football players when they’re hit by linemen.”

The accident started when a car skidded off the section of highway near Mebane shared by interstates 40 and 85. A woman from High Point hydroplaned into the scene and struck three fire vehicles, troopers reported at the time. She died in the crash.

Justice was working the accident scene, parked in the far-right lane with his emergency lights flashing, sitting in the front seat of his Highway Patrol Chevy Tahoe, according to court documents.

The bus, traveling from Atlanta to Raleigh, struck the back of the Tahoe, crumpling half the vehicle and pushing the Tahoe 170 feet. Justice suffered numerous broken bones, troopers said at the time.

Court documents show attorneys for both sides agree the bus driver, J.L. Robinson, had exceeded the number of work hours allowable by federal standards. The driver had made a mathematical error in calculating hours 20 days earlier, court documents said, though he testified he was not tired at the time.

The bus had left Atlanta around 1 a.m., with stops at Charlotte and Greensboro along the way, Heroy said. The collision occurred just after 10 a.m.

That morning, according to Heroy, the earlier wrecks had closed two lanes of the interstate and slowed holiday traffic to 15-20 mph.

Robinson, though, had the Greyhound on cruise control at 68 mph, which Heroy said was the vehicle’s maximum allowable speed. As the bus bore down on Justice’s Tahoe, a bus passenger yelled “Driver!” as a warning. Court testimony showed that Robinson first tried to evade the trooper’s car less than second before impact.

“You see the whole roadway,” Heroy said of footage from dashboard cameras. “It’s very clear. The highway in front of him is ablaze in emergency lights.”

Court documents from 2016 said the speed limit was 65. Robinson was cited in the crash.

Greyhound, in its response to the complaint, denied negligence, arguing that the Highway Patrol shared responsibility by using a Tahoe with inadequate warnings and failing to properly train Justice on safety precautions.

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©2019 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

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