$6 Million Settlement Reached In Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Video Shows Plumbing Van Crossed Centerline 27 Times In 4 Miles And Nearly Caused 9 Collision Before Fatal 2018 Wreck

CLAYTON – A wrongful death lawsuit filed in Johnston County Superior Court following the death of a daycare van driver has been settled for $6 million.

Photo by John Payne

Around 4:00pm on November 6, 2018, Martha Darlene Peterson of Kenly was driving a van for her employer, Kid’s Country Daycare in Clayton.  The 39 year-old woman was driving five children home at the end of the school day when the daycare van she was operating on Barber Mill Road was struck head on by a plumbing van driven by Seth Charles Tracy, 38, of Holly Springs.

According to evidence presented during the civil case, Tracy was under the influence of Xanax and Methadone and crossed the centerline, hitting the daycare van and killing Ms. Peterson almost instantly.  All five children in the van were injured and transported to the hospital.

After Tracy and a co-worker had finished the work day on November 6th, his co-worker drove to his home, got out of the plumbing van and allowed Tracy to drive to his own home.  While on the way to his home, Tracy crossed the centerline and caused the fatal crash.

Photo by John Payne

Video In Plumbing Van Captured The Crash

Unique to the case was the video evidence, according to attorney Bob Lucas of Selma, who represented Martha Peterson’s daughter in the lawsuit.  There were videos in the plumbing van which documented everything that happened from the time the defendant driver and his co-worker arrived at the co-worker’s home until the collision. The videos showed the defendants methadone was actually in the plumbing van. It also showed that just prior to Tracy getting behind the wheel he was sound asleep in the passenger area. And, during the approximately 7 minute, 4.4 mile trip from the co-worker’s home to the collision site Tracy crossed the center line 27 times and almost caused 9 collisions before the fatal collision with the daycare van.

Seth Charles Tracy Mugshot

In addition to the claims for negligence and punitive damages against Tracy, the Plaintiffs also pursued a negligent entrustment claim and punitive damages against the plumbing company.  According to evidence, Tracy was allowed to drive despite having approximately 9 at-fault accidents prior to the fatal crash, 3 prior accidents in his employer’s van and 15 prior driving convictions.  No drug tests were administered after any of the accidents.

Evidence was also presented in the civil case showing a pattern of behavior by Tracy where he would show up to working showing signs of impairment “more than 50 percent of the time” according to one witness.  Other witnesses testified Tracy would regularly fall asleep during company meetings, he would slur his speech and stumble around.  Witnesses also said it was common knowledge at the plumbing company that Tracy had a drug problem and the owner had been told that if he continued to drive “he was going to kill someone one day.”

The wrongful death case was settled for $6 million and approved by Superior Court Judge Thomas Lock.  Slightly over $5,585,000 was paid to the family of Martha Peterson.  The families of the five injured children riding in the daycare van divided the balance, which did cover punitive damages.  The Estate of Martha Peterson also received death benefits of nearly $159,000 under the worker’s compensation act.

“I was absolutely appalled at the facts of this case.  It is rare that we see punitive damages.  Punitive damages are meant to punish and deter bad conduct.  Obviously the insurance carrier agreed that the conduct of the defendant driver and plumbing company was outrageous.  I say this because the carrier agreed to pay $6 million at mediation, which was the total coverage of the defendant plumbing company,” according to attorney Lucas.  “Based upon discussions with other attorneys and judges, this is believed to be the largest individual settlement in Johnston County’s history.”

Martha Peterson was killed on Nov. 6, 2018 after the daycare van she was driving was struck head-on.

“Martha Peterson’s daughter wants this information to be made public in the hope that it will deter employers from putting dangerous drivers on the road to conduct their business and will inspire employers to be continuously vigilant in making sure only responsible employees are driving their company vehicles,” Mr. Lucas said.

The $6 million settlement did not specifically name the plumbing company. However, photos of the 2018 accident show “Bizzy Bee Plumbing, Inc.” on the side of the van Tracy was driving.

Tracy is still awaiting trial on criminal charges of death by motor vehicle and driving while impaired.

Martha Peterson had been in the daycare industry for 15 years prior to her tragic death.