Crash victim's wife: 'I don't think he had to die that day'

Wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of victim's family over deadly 2014 crash

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Three companies and two truck drivers are being sued by the widow of a Palatka hit-and-run victim.

Shawn Ryster, a 30-year-old father of two, was heading to work last December when a crash on Interstate 75 claimed his life.

Authorities charged the driver of a semi-truck with homicide in connection with his death.

“I don't think he had to die that day,” Ryster's widow, Valona Ryster said. “It was all because people were neglectful.”

Shawn Ryster was driving to work in Valdosta when he collided with a truck traveling only 25 to 30 mph. The driver of that truck kept going, and another vehicle hit Ryster's disabled vehicle. He died at the scene.

A wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of Shawn Ryster's family alleges that the truck had significant mechanical problems and didn’t have proper lighting and signals on its rear, making it hard for Ryster and other motorists to see it.

The lawsuit is against the truck's driver and the companies that owned the truck. It also names the driver of the other truck that hit Ryster and the company that owned it.

Valona Ryster said the last year has been hard for her and her daughters. Shawn's death shattered the hopes she had for their future, which is why she's filing the lawsuit, she said.

She was there today as attorneys announced they have filed a wrongful death suit in connection with her husband’s death.

“Accidents happen, of course,” Valona Ryster said. “I think I am angry about the neglect on lots of different ends: of the truck, of him being left.”

The lawsuit says that on Dec. 8, 2014, Leon Calliway Sr. was driving a tractor-trailer on I-75 just before 6:30 a.m. The semi was owned by National, and Calliway contracted with Quality Drive Away Incorporated, or QDA, to transport it from St. Paul Minnesota to Florida.

According to the document, Calliway had been having problems with the trailer for some time and had to pull over twice.

Instead of calling for help or waiting, Calliway got back on the road, despite the fact that the semi had defective taillights, was spewing smoke and could only go 25 to 30 mph in a 70 mph zone, the lawsuit said.

“There's no way Shawn Ryster could have seen this truck,” attorney Seth Pajcic said.

Ryster hit the trailer and his vehicle stopped in the outside lane.

Then another tractor-trailer, driven by Dee Bee Patrick and owned by Schneider National Carriers, hit Ryster's vehicle. Ryster died at the scene.

The lawsuit says both drivers and the three companies connected with them are liable.

It claims Calliway was negligent in operating the vehicle by driving below the speed limit and by not stopping to help Ryster after the initial crash, driving beyond the number of hours allowed by law, and doing so without proper lights and warning signals.

It claims QDA is liable as well because the company employed Calliway and had a duty to make sure he complied with regulations.

The lawsuit names National as well, saying the company should have better maintained its vehicle and known QDA and its drivers had received citations for operating unsafe vehicles.

The lawsuit alleges the driver of the other truck was going too fast and/or failed to keep a proper lookout for Ryster’s vehicle before hitting it. It holds the company he worked for liable as well.

Valona Ryster said she hopes the lawsuit will bring stability for her children.

“A little support for us, college,” she said. “My children are what's important to me, and they were why Shawn went to school. That's why he did what he did, to support us, you know?”

The lawsuit, which asks for a jury trial, is seeking in excess of $75,000 against each defendant on behalf of Shawn Ryster’s family, for the emotional pain he suffered before his death, funeral expenses, his death and the intangible aspects of his life.