Relatives of family killed in Nebraska crash sue truckers, companies

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line contributing writer

A multiple car and truck fatality from September involving allegations of hours-of-service violations and possible language barriers has resulted in a civil lawsuit.

The parents of Diana and Christopher Schmidt, who were killed in the wreck, filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Nebraska. Donna Costley, Christopher Schmidt’s mother, and Bradley Baumann and Nancy Baumann, who are Diana Schmidt’s parents, are listed as plaintiffs, along with the estates of all four members of the Schmidt family who died in the wreck.

The suit names as defendants truck drivers Josef Slezak, Vladimir Zhukov, and their companies, AKI Trucking and Swift-Truck Lines Ltd.

The wrecks occurred in the early morning hours of Sunday, Sept. 9, after a disabled truck stopped in the right westbound lane of Interstate 80 between mile markers 38 and 39. As traffic backed up in the westbound lanes, a truck driven by 36-year-old Josef Slezak of River Grove, IL, slammed into a 2010 Ford Mustang driven by Christopher Schmidt, 30, of Gaithersburg, MD.

The force of the wreck pushed Schmidt’s Mustang into a Toyota Camry that was driven by Diana Schmidt, Christopher Schmidt’s wife, who was 30 weeks pregnant. The Camry was pushed underneath a truck directly in front of it driven by William David Wiener of Algona, IA, who drove for Cornpatch Express of Emmetsburg, IA. Conner Schmidt, 2, and Samual Schmidt, 3, were passengers in the Camry. All occupants of both cars died in the wrecks.

The lawsuit alleges that Slezak violated hours-of-service rules enforced by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration by more than three hours.

Slezak, an Illinois resident and citizen of the Czech Republic, was charged with four counts of manslaughter and four counts of motor vehicle homicide, though that charge has been amended to reflect an additional count of vehicular homicide due to the death of Diana Schmidt’s unborn child. He was jailed on $1 million bond.

According to the FMCSA’s website, AKI Trucking Inc., Slezak’s carrier, was rated at 80.9 percent for FMCSA’s Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories, above the 65 percent line that triggers federal intervention. The company had been cited for 18 fatigued driving violations, including most recently in late July in California when one of its drivers was cited for violating state and local hours-of-service laws.

AKI Trucking hadn’t been involved in a fatal wreck in the last 24 months, FMCSA’s records show.

Soon after the wrecks, Slezak spoke to investigators through an interpreter, though a prosecutor told Land Line in September he didn’t believe the language issue played a factor in the crash.