JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Nassau County man is opening up to News4Jax about the tragic crash on Interstate 95 in South Carolina last year that killed his wife and two children.
More than a year later, Joshua Stanley has filed a lawsuit against Hyundai, Kia Motors and the South Carolina Department of Transportation, saying his wife and children should not have died in the crash.
Amber Stanley, 24, the couple’s 4-year-old son Jack and their 2-year-old daughter Autumn died May 7, 2018, after their Kia Soul hit an alligator, careened into a tree and then burst into flames.
Stanley said on Monday that his family should have survived. According to a copy of the wrongful death complaint, his wife and children were buckled up and going 40 miles per hour at the time of the crash.
DOCUMENTS: Read a copy of the wrongful death lawsuit
"I don’t want anyone else to have to go through it," said Stanley, who believes the vehicle’s design is to blame. "So hopefully this will be able to spur some change and get some safer vehicles on the road."
Attorney Michael Pajcic, who represents Stanley, said there is no doubt in his mind that his client’s two young children died from burns in the fire, not the collision that preceded it.
"By the time it makes impact with the tree, it’s only going 40-45 miles per hour, which is the speed everybody travels on Beach Boulevard in Jacksonville every day," Pajcic said.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating 3 million Hyundai and Kia vehicles after more than 100 people have been injured in 3,000 fires, including the 2011 Kia Soul.
The two automakers have recalled over 2.3 million vehicles since 2015 in response to a range of risks that could potentially lead to engine fires.
"There have been recalls of the same exact engine that was in (the family’s) 2011 Kia Soul," Pajcic said.
Also named in the lawsuit is the South Carolina Department of Transportation for an alleged failure to remove trees in the median and taking steps to prevent wildlife from crossing into the highway.
Pajcic said if there were proper fencing in place, the alligator at the center of the crash wouldn’t have been able to cross into the interstate and created the traffic hazard it eventually became.
He also contends that the transportation department was in the process of removing trees from the median, but he noted that the agency did not do so in a timely manner.
"South Carolina knew they had a dangerous situation with these trees in the median, they hadn’t corrected it and, as a result, now we have a tragic event," Pajcic said.
Stanley, who carries his family’s ashes in a necklace to this day, told News4Jax he just hopes the lawsuit will make a difference. He said it’s been hard carrying on since the crash.
"You know, wake up with them on my mind, just trying to stay busy, trying to figure out whatever I can to kind of make them proud and just keep moving forward."