Lawsuits All Settled in Crash Killing 7 Kids; the Wrongful Death Cases Stemmed from a Union County Accident

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Byline: PAUL PINKHAM

The last of a half-dozen wrongful death lawsuits filed after a fiery Union County truck crash that killed seven children were settled Friday.

Terms of all the settlements with Crete Carrier Corp. were confidential, but a lawyer who represented most of the families said he hopes they push stricter enforcement of trucking safety regulations.

"These children need not have lost their lives," said attorney Mark Avera of Gainesville. "There are more people that die in truck crashes every year with fatigued drivers than die in plane crashes. The only difference is the magnitude of the crash."

Crete's lawyer declined comment on the settlements.

Seven children from one family died in January 2006 when a Freightliner semi driven by Crete driver Alvin Wilkerson crashed into the back of their car, which was stopped behind a school bus. Ten students in the bus were injured. Prosecutors said Wilkerson fell asleep at the wheel because he was awake nearly 34 hours before the crash.

Wilkerson, 35, began a seven-year prison sentence last year after pleading guilty to seven counts of vehicular manslaughter. He also agreed to testify against Crete in any legal proceeding and gave a sworn statement that his supervisor at Crete pressured him to drive extra routes and hours.

Since the lawsuits, Avera said Crete has instituted software procedures to better track drivers' hours. …