COUNCIL BLUFFS — A judge will rule later this week on a claim made by a driver who struck and killed a Shelby, Iowa, firefighter on Interstate 80 in 2011.
The driver, David L. Thies of Boone, Iowa, is suing the City of Shelby for $5,000, the maximum allowed in Iowa small claims court. Thies, 45, is suing for medical costs he incurred for psychological treatment after the crash. He received extensive treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, and his marriage ended.
Thies alleges that firefighter Michael Collins was under the influence of drugs at the time of the accident and that he stepped into traffic.
Collins was directing traffic on eastbound I-80 near Shelby about 6:50 p.m. on Sept. 18, 2011. A Honda Accord driven by Thies swerved around stopped vehicles, entered the left lane and struck Collins, according to patrol reports.
Thies was ticketed for driving without proper registration, but he faced no other charges.
Tests after the accident indicated he didn't have alcohol or drugs in his system.
Investigators were unable to determine how fast Thies was driving, but in court Monday he said that he was driving at about the speed limit.
After the 2011 crash, Collins' family questioned why authorities didn't pursue a criminal case against Thies. Pottawattamie County Attorney Matt Wilber said investigators found no evidence that Thies acted in a reckless manner.
Documents filed as part of the suit, including the Iowa State Patrol's full investigative report, indicate that Collins had THC in his system, the active ingredient in marijuana, and oxymorphone, a narcotic pain reliever.
Monday's hearing took place in the small claims court at the Pottawattamie County Courthouse. Magistrate Judge Robert Rodenburg said the magnitude of the case was such that he would give the matter some thought before issuing his decision.
This wasn't Thies' first fatal crash. In 1988, he was driving a motorcycle near Axtell, Neb., when it crashed, killing his passenger, Gina Pearson, 20, of Kearney, Neb.
Prosecutors said he had been drinking before the accident. Thies served 17 months for motor vehicle homicide.
During Monday's hearing, Kristopher Madsen, the attorney for the city, said an accident report of the I-80 crash indicates Thies switched lanes rather than braking. While other motorists stopped, none swerved into the left lane, Madsen said.
He also asked Thies about the 1988 crash. He noted that medical records show Thies talked to his psychologist about his marriage, not the 2011 crash that killed Collins.
“The proximate cause of his death was Mr. Thies and his inability to operate a motor vehicle safely,” Madsen said.
In response to Madsen, Thies admitted he was at fault in the 1988 fatal crash, and he said that caused him distress. But he hadn't needed psychological help again until 2011, Thies said, and problems with his marriage stemmed from the 2011 crash.
“There was nothing prior to that,” he said. “Not for 20 years.”
Madsen asked Thies if he felt that he had any fault at all in the crash.
“I used to,” Thies replied. “I cried for days and days for this man … (but) there was nothing else I could have done differently.”