Karee Battenfield packed her kids in the car on May 1 and headed to Eugene to find out the extent of her husband’s injuries after a construction accident on Interstate 5.
En route, the 47-year-old Medford mother called PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend, and the doctor told her that her husband’s situation didn’t look good. Battenfield said she kept pressing for more information about 44-year-old Layne Battenfield, a 26-year construction worker and longtime supervisor.
“The doctor asked me, ‘Are you behind the wheel?'” Battenfield recalled. “When he said, ‘behind the wheel,’ I knew right then that he didn’t make it.”
The Medford widow, who has four children, filed a $7.9 million lawsuit in Multnomah County Circuit Court Wednesday against two construction companies after her husband was crushed to death when struck by an asphalt dump truck that was backing up in a construction area on Interstate 5 near Cottage Grove.
“He always mentioned how dangerous it was,” Battenfield said. “There had been a couple of traffic fatalities.”
Battenfield, who said her husband was safety-conscious on the job, said she initially got a call from someone who worked with her husband who told her that he’d been in an accident and had suffered a leg injury.
It was not until she contacted the hospital that she discovered her husband’s injuries were far worse.
The doctor told her that CPR had been performed on her husband for 40 minutes before he was pronounced dead. Battenfield said she regrets not being able to say her goodbyes while he was still alive. She said her son arrived 10 minutes too late at the hospital, and she arrived 40 minutes too late.
The suit alleges driver Joseph Johnston, who works for Materials Transfer Services and was delivering a load of asphalt for Wildish Building Material Co., backed his rig up while trying to align it with a trailer. Johnston, Materials Transfer of Junction City and Wildish were all named as defendants in the suit.
Layne Battenfield, superintendent for Oregon Mainline Paving, was walking along the passenger side of the dump truck wearing a bright safety vest and baseball cap. According to the suit, Battenfield should have been clearly visible in the driver’s rear-view mirror.
“The driver was going too fast and didn’t have a spotter,” said Portland attorney Tom D’Amore, representing Karee Battenfield. “He (the driver) was angling away from the barrier. Apparently, he wasn’t paying attention to the work.”
D'Amore said the backup beeper was difficult to hear on the passenger side of the dump truck, particularly with noise from traffic on the freeway.
The driver wasn’t cited after investigations by the Oregon State Police and the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division. A trooper found no criminal intent or recklessness, and an Oregon OSHA inspector found no safety or equipment violations.
Materials Transfer Services’ Portland attorney Mark Zipse was unavailable for comment on the allegations in the lawsuit. A representative from Materials Transfer also could not be reached for comment.
D’Amore said Karee Battenfield has worked part-time as a teacher’s aide in Medford, and that her husband was mostly the sole breadwinner, bringing home in excess of $100,000 a year. The couple has two children in college.
Most of the damages sought in the suit relate to lost income for the family.
Battenfield said her husband drove north to Cottage Grove every Monday and returned on Friday nights. Occasionally his family would visit him in the travel trailer that he had set up as his home away from home.
“It was our vacation,” Battenfield said.
When Battenfield arrived at the hospital on May 1, she was first given her husband’s wallet. “I asked, ‘Where’s his wedding ring?’ They told me it stays on his body until they were finished.”
She was warned that a tube would still be in her husband’s mouth. She went into the room with her younger boys and said their goodbyes.
Her husband was also well known in the community and had helped build softball fields in Medford, Battenfield said.
“Everybody loved him,” she said. “He was a rock.”