The family of Jesse Austin Trader, a firefighter who was killed in August 2013 when his water truck crashed during the Big Windy Complex wildfire, has filed suit against the federal government, two Josephine County businesses and Trader’s uncle claiming negligence and seeking $5 million.
Filed July 7 in U.S. District Court in Medford, the suit alleges the defendants were negligent in Trader’s death for reasons that include improper inspections on the nearly 50-year-old International Harvester truck, loading the truck beyond its posted capacity and directing Trader to drive the overloaded truck downhill.
Daniel Trader, Jesse Trader’s uncle and co-owner of the 1966 truck, had performed the vehicle’s annual safety inspection report four months prior. The suit alleges that Daniel Trader issued an “erroneous report” that overlooked the truck’s deficient brakes, inadequate baffling and an incorrect posted weight, which have been cited as causes of the crash in a report issued by the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service and Oregon Department of Forestry.
The crash occurred about 7:20 a.m. Aug. 6 near Soldier Camp on Bear Camp Road, a mountainous, twisting route from Galice to the coast. Firefighters who witnessed the crash smelled burning brakes and observed smoke from beneath the truck as it gathered speed before hitting an embankment and rolling over, the suit says. Jesse Trader, a 2012 South Albany High School graduate, had obtained his commercial driver’s license only a week before the crash, according to news reports at the time.
When fully loaded, the truck weighed 55,320 pounds — more than 10 percent above the manufacturer’s maximum listed 50,000 pounds, news reports said. The vehicle had brakes only on its rear axle. It’s unknown for certain whether Jesse Trader was wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash, but he wasn’t wearing a seat belt when he was extricated from the vehicle, a 2014 Associated Press report says.
The suit alleges negligence against Oregon businesses Dutch Mining, Security Guys LLC, Security Guys Inc., Daniel Trader individually and the U.S. government.
The family is seeking $5 million for burial costs, wages Jesse Trader would have accumulated had he lived to his full life expectancy, and the mental pain and suffering Jesse Trader endured in the moments prior to his death.