NAUGATUCK — An attorney for the estate of a Waterbury man killed after a head-on crash with a school bus in Waterbury said they will file a lawsuit against a used auto dealer that has racked up customer complaints.
The suit centers on a crash in February on Watertown Avenue that killed Jeremy Rucker, 24, of Naugatuck, and 23-year-old Michael Maldonado of Waterbury. Police found Rucker was driving a 2006 Dodge Dakota when the truck — for an as-of-yet-determined reason — crossed the center line and slammed head-on into a school bus driving in the opposite lane.
Rucker and Maldonado were killed instantly, while the bus driver Jessnellie Ramos, escaped major injury, police said.
The truck’s cab — primarily around the passenger side where Maldonado was seated — was crushed in the violent impact, while the front of the bus bowed inward.
The collision occurred on a relatively straight stretch of road that runs parallel to the southbound lanes of Route 8.
Andrew Bottinick, an attorney with the Carter Mario law firm that represents Maldonado’s estate, said the suit was filed against the auto dealer — A Better Way — because it owns the pickup truck.
The lawsuit states that Maldonado’s injuries and death were the result of the negligence and carelessness of Rucker. It states that he was in the wrong because he was driving at an unreasonable speed, crossed over the center line and, among other things, failed to keep the truck under proper and reasonable control.
The lawsuit also blames A Better Way for Rucker’s negligence.
A computer onboard the bus showed it was moving at 34 mph — just under the speed limit — when it was struck. Although there was a video camera onboard the bus, police found that it wasn’t helpful due to sun glare and the angle in which it was positioned.
A manager for a Better Way told police that the men were making a run to drop off scrap metal in Waterbury at the time of the crash, according to police. Rucker appeared to be heading back to Naugatuck after leaving Albert Bros. scrap yard on East Aurora Street when the truck crashed. An employee at the dealership described himself as a close friend of Rucker, telling police that Rucker was not depressed or angry at anything. After Rucker was removed from the truck, police found his cellphone in his pocket.
Though it remains a mystery why the truck crossed the line, police concluded Rucker was the “contributing factor in the collision.”
“Due to the unfortunate death of Mr. Rucker, it is unknown to me why he crossed the yellow lines,” Waterbury police Officer Kevin Marano wrote in his accident report.
The truck was in such bad shape that a mechanic couldn’t find anything of note during an inspection of the mangled wreckage.
“The vehicle was so badly damaged that no one can figure it out,” Bottinick said of why the truck crossed the line. “I spoke to the bus driver and another witness and both said so me that when they saw the truck come over the yellow line, two things flashed into their mind: one, that the driver had a medical emergency or two, that something went wrong with the truck. It just flat out came over; it didn’t swerve.”
Former customers of A Better Way, which operates from a space on Rubber Avenue, have sued the dealership claiming that used cars purchased from the auto dealer were defective. More than 100 complaints, ranging from issues with customer complaints to broken parts, have also been lodged with the Connecticut Better Business Bureau.
“Rucker said he always got bad vehicles to drive; he never got a well-maintained or nice car. His mother said that Monday at a probate court hearing last week in front of Judge (Pete) Mariano in Naugatuck,” Bottinick said. “She told me that every time he drove a car, he was always complaining about its handling. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another.”
An attorney for A Better Way, Kenneth Alan Votre, declined to comment on the suit after he was reached Monday.
The suit asks for an unspecified amount in damages.