A jury trial in a case involving two brawling school bus drivers began as attorneys for both sides delivered opening arguments on Oct. 15 in Madison County Circuit Judge William Mudge's court.
Roy C. Dripps of Armbuster, Dripps, Winterscheidt & Blotevogel in Alton for plaintiff Gary Spiller argued that fellow bus driver Ronald Cochran had a clear history of anger issues - such as tailgating, using profanity and shoving a student - but bus company First Student negligently ignored these signs. Dripps compared the actions to breaking traffic rules even when no one is there to witness.
“How many red lights did First Student drive through before they wrecked Gary Spiller?” Dripps asked.
Dripps said Cochran began harassing Spiller and approached him in a break room in May 2011. Cochran allegedly tackled Spiller and threatened to slash his throat with a razor and cut him up into pieces. The incident was allegedly witnessed by employee Roberta Everhart. She texted their boss John Mollett, who allegedly did nothing and did not further question Everhart about the altercation, Dripps claims.
Then on Aug. 8, 2011, Dripps said the drivers attended a route pick, which is a meeting where drivers choose the route they will drive that year in order of seniority. Spiller was there as a union steward, he said.
Dripps said Cochran came out of a restroom and allegedly shoved Spiller with both fists while yelling profanity at him. Dripps claims Spiller responded by putting him in a headlock and rolling him to the ground rather than fight back, which caused Spiller to tear his rotator cuff. Dripps said Spiller never threw a punch.
Spiller seeks damages for injuries and punitive damages for First Student's alleged willful and wanton conduct.
In October 2008, First Student took over Laid Law bus company and allegedly got rid of documents, including Cochran’s new job application, Dripps argued.
Then, when Dripps requested to see documents from Cochran’s personnel file, he allegedly discovered items were missing and claims First Student management had no explanation, he said.
“So we’re left wondering what First Student took out of the file that they aren’t telling you,” Dripps said.
Thomas Magee of HeplerBroom in St. Louis delivered opening arguments for First Student arguing that the incident was a fight between two men over a woman and First Student was just dragged into it.
“We hoped that two 60 year old men would not behave like children,” Magee said, “but that’s what happened.”
“It’s unfortunate this fight occurred. It’s unfortunate that these grown men can’t get along. But it’s not correct to say it was First Student turning a blind eye to what was going on.”
Magee argued that despite what Dripps said, the case is not about a First Student conspiracy of purged files. He said First Student had its own forms to record and that former Laid Law employees were required to reapply to First Student.
“If we would have known a lawsuit was going to happen, things would have been done differently,” Magee said.
Magee said the argument that led to the brawl between Spiller and Cochran began over Larissa “Lucy” Evans and her daughter Brandi. He said that Lucy Evans was dating Cochran.
Magee said Spiller said Cochran was Evans's "puppet" when referring to the relationship. Magee also said Evans showed interest in Spiller, which Spiller refused.
Regarding the episode that led to Spiller's claimed injury, Cochran claims he was minding his own business when Spiller "gave him a rush" while exiting the restroom. He responded by shoving Spiller, Magee said.
Magee also said Spiller wanted to fight back but injured himself. Cochran then called police.
Madison County Circuit Court case number 12-L-1223