POLSON – The mangled remains of a Hyundai and a Pontiac that hit head-on three years ago north of Arlee, killing three people, will be brought to a parking lot across the street from the Lake County Courthouse.
Inside the courthouse’s third-floor courtroom Monday morning, jury selection begins for a trial in which families of two of the victims say Hyundai – and an allegedly defective right front steering knuckle – are responsible for the crash.
Hyundai says there was nothing wrong with the steering knuckle, and that something else – possibly fireworks exploding inside the vehicle – are to blame for the Hyundai veering into the wrong lane on U.S. Highway 93.
It happened at about 9 p.m. on July 2, 2011. The wreck killed two Missoula cousins, 19-year-old Trevor Olson and 14-year-old Tanner Olson, and 21-year-old Stephanie Nicole Parker-Shepard of Arlee.
The Olsons were in the 2005 Hyundai Tiburon and headed to Flathead Lake for the Fourth of July when the car crossed the center line between Arlee and Ravalli. It struck a southbound 2002 Pontiac Grand Am.
The Olson cousins and Parker-Shepard were killed instantly. Parker-Shepard’s husband, Vincent Shepard, and their two young children were severely injured in the crash.
Court records indicate the case began as a lawsuit by Parker-Shepard’s family against the Olson cousins’ estates.
That reportedly was settled out of court, although that could not be confirmed, and the case now involves the Olsons’ estates and Hyundai Motor Co. and Hyundai Motor America Inc.
Over the past three years documents filed by attorneys representing those involved have filled 40 files with thousands of pages.
The trial is expected to last at least two weeks, with more than 60 witnesses expected to be called by the plaintiffs alone, including one identified only as “Korean interpreter.”
In the lawsuit, David Olson, who represents his son Trevor’s estate, and Kathy Gratton, who represents her son Tanner Olson’s estate, say the Hyundai “was in a defective condition” because it was manufactured with a defective right front steering knuckle, “which had casting defects at the time the steering knuckle was casted. ... The steering knuckle suffered from metal fatigue as a result of the casting defects, and such metal fatigue was compounded by corrosion.”
Documents go on to claim that the right front steering knuckle sustained three separate fractures, including one the winter prior to the accident, and one immediately before the vehicle swerved into the Pontiac.
Hyundai knew of problems with the knuckles for several years, but failed to take corrective action or warn Hyundai owners, the lawsuit says.
Attorneys for Hyundai say there were no casting defects in the right – or left, for that matter – steering knuckle, and that “tremendous and violent forces generated in this crash fractured and distorted the right steering knuckle.”
The right steering knuckle on the Pontiac was also fractured in the crash, Hyundai says.
Approximately 10 million steering knuckles were placed in service in new Hyundais between 2000 and 2011, Hyundai’s lawyers say, and “as no defect or damage existed to the right steering knuckle or other steering components across Hyundai’s automotive product line, such reference is irrelevant and a red herring as to what caused the crash on July 2, 2011.”
The cause of the crash, according to the defendants, was “Trevor Olson swerving into the oncoming lane of traffic at a speed of approximately 68 mph. Trevor Olson’s swerve was caused by fireworks exploding in the vehicle or some other unknown reason.”
Montana District Court Judge Kim Christopher will preside at the trial.
Attorneys for Trevor Olson’s estate are John E. Bohyer and Paul Tranel of Bohyer, Erickson, Beaudette & Tranel of Missoula. Tanner Olson’s estate is represented by Mark Williams and James Johnson of the Williams Law Firm of Missoula.
Hyundai’s lawyers includes David Prichard and Kevin Young of Prichard, Hawkins, McFarland & Young of San Antonio, Craig Daue of Buxbaum, Daue & Fitzpatrick of Missoula, and Mary Novacheck of Bowman and Brooke of Minneapolis.