Family's relatives ask to transfer bridge collapse lawsuit Muskogee

Friday, August 2nd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MUSKOGEE, Okla. (AP) _ A lawyer for relatives of an Arkansas family killed in the deadly Interstate 40 bridge collapse asked a Mississippi judge on Thursday to transfer a financial liability case to Muskogee.

Shortly after the May 26 accident, Magnolia Marine Transport Co. asked a federal judge in Jackson, Miss., to limit the amount it might pay in civil damages to $1.2 million.

U.S. District Judge David Bramlette granted a temporary stay from civil proceedings and is considering the liability limitation issue.

But in his motion, Oklahoma City attorney John Merritt argued that an Oklahoma federal judge should make such considerations.

``There's several hundred witnesses involved, and all of them live in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas,'' said Merrit, one of the lawyers representing the survivors of James and Misty Johnson and their 3-year-old daughter, Shae.

The Johnsons' family members have three pending lawsuits against Vicksburg, Miss.-based Magnolia Marine, towboat pilot Joe Dedmon and Ergon Inc., the Jackson-based parent company, in Muskogee federal court.

Frank Dantone, an attorney representing Magnolia Marine, said Mississippi is the proper venue.

``Also, the pilot of the boat lives within that district and the crew of the boat live in or near that district,'' Dantone said.

The Johnsons were among the 14 who died when their vehicles plunged into the murky waters of the Arkansas River.

After two months of being closed, the bridge reopened to traffic on Monday.

Dedmon has said he lost consciousness shortly before the two barges the towboat was pushing slammed into the bridge's piers.

Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson also sued the same three defendants in Muskogee County District Court, but that case was moved to federal court.

Edmondson is seeking its return to state court, also.