Madison - St. Clair Record

Friday, August 23, 2019

Man who nearly lost leg after getting hit by dump truck testifies in trial

By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | Aug 17, 2015

During an emotional testimony Friday in Madison County Circuit Judge Dennis Ruth’s courtroom, a man who suffered severe leg injuries after a dump truck driver ran him over recounted his accident and the long road to recovery, saying he relied heavily on his faith in God to heal his broken body.

Plaintiff William “Mark” Smith, a Baptist pastor in Missouri, is represented by Eric J. Carlson of Byron, Carlson, Petri and Kalb of Edwardsville. He was the last to testify in a week-long trial, presided over by Ruth. Closing statements will take place on Monday at 9 a.m. before the jury deliberates.

Defendant Kilian Corp, represented by David Simkins of Wuestling and James in St. Louis, remains the only defendant at trial.

According to Smith's testimony, he had been working for Quality Testing and Engineering since April 2001, where he performed asphalt density tests at construction sites. On June 7, 2013, Smith was working near freshly poured asphalt at the intersection of Lakeview Acres and Illinois State Route 162 in Maryville when he was hit by a dump truck, entangling his legs in the truck’s spring and pinning him beneath the dump truck.

Carlson obtained security footage taken by the nearby Maryville Baptist Church, which showed the accident and resulting rescue. Smith’s family flinched in their seats in the courtroom as they watched their father and husband get run over.

“I remember the truck hit me,” Smith said. “I remember it dragging me. It seemed like forever. Then it stopped.”

“I felt the pressure of one of the rear axles. I was tossed and turned. I was disoriented … All I knew was I was underneath that truck,” he continued.

And Smith said he was underneath that truck for about 45 minutes, pinned between hot, freshly poured asphalt on the road and hotter asphalt in the bed of the dump truck.

“I was trapped between the hotter above me and the hot below me,” Smith said.

Smith recalled that the asphalt on the ground had cooled some as it settled on the roadway throughout the day, but it was still too hot to touch, noting that fresh asphalt is about 300 degrees Fahrenheit when it is poured.

Carlson also played the 911 tape from the accident. According to the audio, a man claimed to have seen the accident happen and told the 911 operator that it “must be hotter than hell down there,” referring to Smith’s location under the truck.

The 911 operator urged the man to keep Smith from moving, keep him awake, reassure him that help was on the way and to watch him very closely.

“They’re on the way. They’re on the way right now. They’ll be here pretty quick. They’ll get you out of there,” the man could be heard saying to Smith.

When help arrived, Smith said a paramedic crawled under the truck and stayed with him the whole time. He said the paramedics kept him up to speed on what was going on and what they were doing to try to get him out.

Smith recalled how they were able to get his foot loose, but his leg was still caught in the spring. That’s when a man “frantically” began “banging around” with hammers to free his leg.

“I wasn’t sure I wasn’t going to pass out before it was done,” Smith said.

The man working to free Smith from the truck’s spring would curse God’s name “violently” every time he dropped the hammer or hit another complication in the rescue attempt, he said.

At first, Smith said he understood how frantic his rescuer was and let it slide. But as the banging and cursing continued, Smith told him, “Hey take it easy with that name. He’s going to get me out of here.”

Shortly after that, Smith’s leg dropped out and he was airlifted to St. Louis University Hospital.

Smith awoke in the hospital with an open dislocation on his left ankle, right hip fracture, injuries to his eye socket, road rash tattoo around his eye, a cut artery near his knee, burns on his back, legs and arms, and a chipped tooth.

After waking up and begging for water, Smith said he then turned to his wife and asked, “Am I going to die?”

“Not today,” she responded.

“Do I have all my limbs?” he asked.

“Yes, for now,” she said.

The next month was spent in recovery, which Smith referred to as “Groundhog Day.” He said his days were limited to eating, sleeping, taking medicine and having his bandages changed daily. Because of his eye injuries, he said he could not watch TV.

“It was like Groundhog Day. You do it all over again. It was very repetitive. I lost concept of time,” he said.

Through tears, Smith recalled how the pain never ceased.

“I felt pain in almost every form of my body,” he said. “It gradually got some better, but never went away.”

As pain in one area of his body subsided, a new pain would flare up.

“It was like playing ping pong with my pain. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth,” he said.

Smith said his doctor’s had little hope that they could save his foot and ankle and told him, “Mark, you know there’s things worse than losing a limb right? I can’t save your ankle.”

Smith and his wife were hesitant to lose his limb, and ultimately “decided that anybody can take a foot off, but only God can grow it back.”

The plaintiff’s plastic surgeon had some ideas and was able to save Smith’s ankle, but at a cost.

Smith was eventually moved to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Belleville, where he underwent therapy. It was here that he was “reintroduced to the concept of counting your blessings.”

Smith recalled the first time he attended a group therapy session, where he was working with 17 other people in wheelchairs. He said he was too busy feeling sorry for himself to look up at the others in the room, but he heard them saying, “Mark, we’re glad you’re here.”

He said he continued looking down as he did his exercises, but their cheering and encouraging words never stopped. Then, he finally looked up.

“I looked up … and I was the only one with two feet. It made me feel kind of small. It reintroduced me to the fact that I got a lot to be thankful for,” he said through tears.

Smith eventually returned home, where his therapy continued, and he was eventually able to walk with a walker and could even drive.

“That’s freedom. I couldn’t walk very good, but I could drive real good,” he said.

That’s when the pain started to worsen in his ankle again. By August 2014, he was told that his ankle needed to be fused. The surgeon placed a metal rod between the bones in his ankle and fused the bones to the rod, eliminating almost all movement in his left foot. Smith is only able to slightly wiggle some of his toes as a result of the necessary surgery, which he demonstrated for the court.

Then in January, he also had to undergo a total hip replacement on his right side as a result of his right hip fracture.

Because of his eye injury, Smith said he has problems keeping his eyelids shut when he sleeps.

“Sometimes I wake up with my eye so dry that I can hardly open or close them,” he said.

Since the accident, Smith said his life is not nearly as active or independent. She said he needs help getting on his special socks and special walking shoes. He cannot walk without a walker or crutches. He cannot attend to his regular daily activities, such as gardening. He also said he has trouble showering and prefers his wife to be home in case of an emergency, noting that the floor can get slippery and his movements are not as fluid.

Choked on tears, Smith also said the intimacy in his relationship with his wife has suffered.

“It troubles me. When she married me, this wasn’t what she married,” he said. “It’s pretty obvious that she deserves better than me, better than what I am now.”

Following his testimony, Smith’s wife demonstrated how she takes his special shoes, brace and socks off. The demonstration gave him the opportunity to show the jury what his foot looks like following the accident. Covered in scars, his foot was repaired using skin graphs from his thigh.

“It doesn’t look normal,” he said, “but it looks better.”

Kilian has denied liability for the incident. However, less than a week before trial got started, Ruth entered a scalding order striking Kilian’s answers and affirmative defenses, with the exception of its denial of willful and wanton conduct.

Ruth concluded that Kilian and Simkins concealed facts during discovery as it related to a former company safety officer and a safety manual.

In a 10-page order entered Aug. 5, Ruth wrote that the plaintiff had been prejudiced in his “ability to investigate, develop, and otherwise pursue his case against Kilian.”

“Kilian’s compliance with the rules of discovery in the instant matter has been, at best, grossly negligent, and at worst, downright deceitful,” Ruth wrote. “It’s fractional disclosure is equivalent to outright lying.”

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