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Accident victim's family sues

By Ed Brock

The family of an Atlanta man who was killed in an accident caused by a dryer that had been dropped on I-75 has filed a lawsuit naming the man who bought the dryer and two major corporations as co-defendants.

Michael T. Hall, 43, was killed on March 8 when he swerved to avoid the dryer in I-75's northbound lanes near Forest Parkway while driving home in his 1996 Isuzu Rodeo from his sons' Little League baseball game in McDonough. The Rodeo rolled over several times in the accident but Hall's two sons, 9-year-old Michael and 6-year-old Marcus, were not badly injured.

Jose Luna Gonzalez, 25, of Hapeville, was arrested nearly a week later after Clayton County Police identified him as the man who bought the dryer from a Home Depot north of Forest Park. He has been charged with misdemeanor vehicular homicide and failure to secure a load.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday on behalf of Hall's widow Sabrina Hall and the couple's sons, names Home Depot and four companies related to the production of the Isuzu Rodeo as well as Gonzalez.

Home Depot is named because the suit alleges the company's employees failed to make sure the dryer was secured in Gonzalez's truck and Isuzu is named because the design of the Rodeo is alleged to have contributed to the accident and Hall's death, Hall family attorney Quinton Seay said.

"Home Depot had an opportunity to prevent the accident from occurring by making sure the dryer was secure before (Gonzalez) left," Seay said. "They know that most people don't have the knowledge to keep a heavy appliance from falling out of a truck bed or a car trunk."

Atlanta-based Home Depot has the "least cost of order" in preventing such accidents, Seay said, and should train their personnel to secure such heavy loads.

A Home Depot security camera videotaped Gonzalez loading the dryer into his Ford F-150 with the help of another person. Gonzalez's attorney Lee Sexton said earlier that his client told him a Home Depot employee helped him put the dryer in the truck and never suggested tying it down.

Home Depot does not comment on pending litigation, company spokesman Don Harrison said.

As for Isuzu, Seay said the Rodeo that Hall was driving was not properly designed to prevent it from flipping over when a driver takes sudden evasive action, as Hall's vehicle did at the time of the accident. Also, the roof of the Rodeo should have been better designed to prevent it from being crushed inward in the event of a rollover accident, the suit alleges.

"There has been quite a bit of intense litigation around the country regarding that vehicle," Seay said.

Isuzu Motors America also does not comment on pending litigation, company spokesman Chip Letzgus said. Letzgus added that the company is aware of the accident and has the deepest sympathy for the Hall family.

"The Rodeo, like all Isuzu vehicles, meets all federal safety standards and we stand behind it," Letzgus said.

Sexton said part of his defense in the criminal case against Gonzales is also based on the Rodeo's alleged tendency to roll when the driver is forced to make evasive maneuvers. He said that applies to whether his client's actions actually caused Hall's death.

"Other cars missed the dryer or were able to swerve around it without an accident," Sexton said.

Gonzales will plead not guilty to the charges against him and is therefore expected to waive an arraignment hearing scheduled for Monday, Sexton said. Previously Gonzales told the press that he was very sorry about the accident and he had no idea after the dryer fell out of his truck that it had caused the accident.

Sabrina Hall and her two sons are slowly recovering from the accident, said the widow's brother Samuel Tucker, Jr. of Atlanta.

"My sister is grateful and over-whelmed by the tremendous support and compassion from the folks of Georgia," Tucker said.

Sabrina Hall hopes to return to work at Georgia Tech next week. Michael doesn't want to talk about the accident, Tucker said, and Marcus is still having nightmares.

The boys have received an autographed baseball from Chicago Cubs player Sammy Sosa and retired baseball player Cal Ripkin, Jr. gave them an autographed book. Also, Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington met with the brothers and made them honorary detectives.

Michael's Little League team raised $600 for the Hall family.

"The Little League kids were so sweet at the funeral," Tucker said. "They all showed up in their uniforms and brought all the flowers out after the funeral."

At Clark Atlanta University where Hall was a professor Director Karmen Williams is coordinating a fund for the Michael Ronald Hall Memorial MBA Scholarship. She can be reached at (404) 880-8448 or at Kwilliams@sbus.cau.edu for information on contributing to the fund.

Seay said the amount of the damages to be sought in the suit would be based on the income Hall would have been expected to make but he did not name a specific amount.