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Book by Ronald J. Watkins: Birthright: Murder, Greed and Power in the U-Haul Family DynastyBirthright: Murder, Greed, and Power in the U-Haul Family Dynasty by Ronald J. Watkins

During this move, the engine in their U-Haul truck caught on fire and their entire cargo burned to a crisp.

Where was U-Haul during all this?
See this at YouTube.
Other Victims

Talmadge Waldrip, Mesquite, TX, 2006

Talmadge Waldrip and grand daughterAt 73, Tamadge Waldrip was healthy, fit and active, regularly taking his grandchildren fishing and planning to end his retirement and go back into the antiques business. Today, he cannot walk, requires round-the-clock care, is bed-bound and has to be turned every hour to prevent bedsores, and has no bowel or bladder control.

On September 20, 2006, Talmadge was helping his daughter move after her divorce. She had rented a 26-foot U-Haul “Jumbo Hauler’ truck from a store in Mesquite, TX. But she couldn’t drive a stick shift. Her dad could, so he took a load of her belongings to a warehouse he owned in a nearby town. When he got there he stopped on an uphill slope, set the parking brake and stepped out. The truck abruptly started to roll backward, knocked him down, and rolled over him, crushing his groin and dragging him about 40 feet. He’s had 14 surgeries since the incident.

Talmadge, his wife and daughter, sued U-Haul and won an $87 million verdict in April 2008, the largest in Dallas County. They were represented by attorney Ted Lyon, of Mesquite. Basically, the jury found U-Haul “grossly negligent,” due to the following:

Talmadge Waldrip with grandchildren1) The parking brake shoe in the truck had worn away completely, and putting the gear stick in first had the same effect as putting it in neutral.

2) The truck was 18 years old and had about 234,000 miles on it, and its state inspection sticker was expired.

3) Between the date that U-Haul allegedly “inspected” the truck and the Waldrip injury, the truck had 14 other renters, and the parking brake had failed for about half of them.

4) U-Haul inspections are performed inadequately, if at all. Many inspectors lack basic knowledge to do this job.

5) Canada’s crack-down on U-Haul in 2005 and 2006 to better maintain its fleet has resulted in many defective, older vehicles being shipped to the U.S and put into fleets.

View Waldrip legal petition

Other Victims

(The following list is compiled from news reports and legal documents. We would especially like to thank the Los Angeles Times for much of the information, and would encourage you to read its eye-opening investigative series. If you have names or incidents to add, please contact us)

Officer Martin Schmalzried, September 2009, Ohio

An Ohio Highway Patrol Officer was seriously injured in a roll-over crash involving a U-Haul near St. Clairsville, OH, on September 29.

According to OHP, 30-year-old Martin Schmalzried is recovering at a local hospital after suffering several broken bones and lacerations. OHP said two witnesses of the crash called to report that a second vehicle hauling a U-Haul trailer was involved and responsible for the crash.

Schmalzreid was eastbound on I-70 near Exit 213 when he lost control of his car. After a dramatic roll-over, he ended up trapped in the car, upside-down, and on the wrong side of the highway, blocking all westbound traffic.

Tracy Poteat, September 2009, South Dakota

A South Dakota woman driving a Ford SUV pulling a U-Haul trailer was killed September 11, 2009, when the trailer fish-tailed, flipping the car. Tracy Poteat, 42, was eastbound on Interstate 90 near Rapid City, SD, when the vehicle dropped off the paved portion of the road near the median. The driver overcorrected and the vehicle swerved to the right, re-entered the roadway, and started to fish-tail. The driver was unable to regain control of the vehicle. The vehicle entered the median and rolled over. The trailer became detached and broke apart in the median. The vehicle came to rest on its top in the westbound lane of Interstate 90. The driver suffered fatal injuries as a result of the crash. A passenger was transported to Rapid City Regional Hospital.

Driver, August 2009, South Carolina

A sport utility vehicle pulling a U-Haul on Interstate 85 near Anderson, SC, f lipped over and caught fire with the driver pinned inside Aug. 22, 2009. The vehicle came to rest upside-down in a lane of the interstate, and the U-Haul trailer sat nearby, slightly damaged and detached from its hitch. The driver, whose name was not immediately available from officials, was freed from the vehicle and taken from the scene by ambulance.

Maria Federici, 2004, Washington

Before and after photos of Maria FedericiJust before midnight on Feb. 22, 2004, Maria Federici, 24, was headed south on Interstate 405 near Seattle when a piece of particleboard smashed through the driver-side window of her Jeep Liberty. Federici nearly died. The bones in her face were shattered. The Renton woman, now 27, was left permanently without her sight.

The board was part of an entertainment center that was being transported in an open U-Haul utility trailer. Federici sued U-Haul and in 2007 won a $15.5 million verdict. Her attorney, William J. Leedom, argued successfully that U-Haul should have warned the renter than hauling equipment in a trailer was dangerous if it wasn’t tied down. The trailer wasn’t equipped with tie-downs and the renter was not given any safety instructions or information about proper loading. Maria’s accident led Washington State to adopt tougher laws requiring trailer loads to be tied down properly to prevent debris from flying out and endangering other drivers.

U-Haul tried to blame Federici, saying she was following the trailer too closely.

Marissa Sternberg, 2003, Colorado

After photo of Marissa Sternberg receiving physical therapyMarissa was 19-years-old in 2003, when she headed exuberantly from Tucson to Denver to attend veterinarian school. While pulling a U-Haul trailer through the desert area of New Mexico, the trailer began to sway violently. Marissa’s Toyota Land Cruiser flipped and the trailer broke free. Today Marissa is severely brain damaged and paralyzed, requiring 24-hour care. Experts later testified the trailer’s brakes were badly corroded and inoperable. U-Haul settled the lawsuit in 2005.

Photos of Marissa
Photos of the crash scene
LA Times Tips for Towing

Mark Letzer, 2003, Texas

Mark LetzerDevin Letzer

Mark, an architect, was moving from los Angels to New Orleans, in 2003, pulling a U-Haul trailer with his Honda Passport. Traveling through Texas on I-10, the trailer started swaying violently and flipped the passenger car. Mark’s son was driving at the time. Mark was ejected and was killed instantly. The ensuing lawsuit showed the brakes had no brake fluid and were missing brake pads, had not been inspected in nine months, and had been rented 9 times in this condition. U-Haul settled the suit in 2006.

Omar Danner Family, 2002, Alabama

Omar Danner, his wife and three relatives, rented one U-Haul vehicle and had to return it, it was shaking so badly. After taking off in their second rental vehicle, it started smoking under the hood and they pulled over to the side of I-20. As they waited while a mechanic worked on the vehicle, they were struck by a semi truck trailer rig that had drifted over to the shoulder. Wife Jacqueline, who was more than six months pregnant, suffered head injuries and severe knee damage.

Mindy Swegels, 2002, Tennessee

Mindy and her fiancé, Christian Strong, were returning to Kentucky from a Florida vacation when their U-Haul trailer began swaying, flipping their Ford Explorer on I-75 in Tennessee. Swegels suffered a head injury that left her brain-damaged. A jury later awarded her family $2.6 million, finding U-Haul had failed to warn the couple about the risks of pulling a U-Haul trailer.

Gabriel Koloszar and Paulo Aguilar, 2002, California

Kolozar, 24, and Paulo, 20, along with two other friends, were headed to Los Angeles from Nevada, towing camping gear in a U-Haul trailer behind their Ford Explorer, when the trailer began swaying and the Explorer overturned. Aguilar suffered a fractured skull and broken vertebra in his neck, requiring two surgeries. Koloszar was hospitalized for two months with severe foot injuries. The ensuing lawsuit cited a worn tire that suddenly deflated, causing the Explorer to veer to the left. The two later settled with U-Haul.

Corry and Ryan Burke, 2002

Chris Burke, his wife, Corry, 25, and their infant son, Ryan, were involved in a rollover accident in 2002, while towing a U-Haul trailer from Indiana to Florida. The accident left his son with a fractured skull and his wife a paraplegic.

Ronald Christensen, 2001, Wyoming

Ronald was a passenger in a Ford Explorer being driven by his son, who was towing a trailer from Utah to New Hampshire. The trailer began swaying wildly while going downhill on I-80 in Wyoming, flipping the Explorer. Experts in a lawsuit said the trailer’s brake-fluid reservoir was dry. U-Haul later settled the suit.

Lee Taylor, 2001

Taylor is a U-Haul shop foreman who rented a company truck for a move in 2001. A co-worker was driving the truck when it rear-ended a pickup. Taylor suffered shoulder, back and neck injuries. He sued U-Haul, saying the truck had faulty brakes. Two mechanics testified they had faked brake maintenance on the vehicle, a process called ‘hanging paper,” basically to keep their jobs. U-Haul blamed the co-worker. The jury blamed U-Haul. Taylor was awarded $1.5 million.

Moss Family, 1999, Georgia

Bonita was killed when another vehicle pushed her car into the path of a U-Haul truck, which couldn’t stop in time because of faulty brakes. Moss’ son and niece were also killed. Bonita was 8 ½ months pregnant at the time. Her baby was delivered by suffered brain damage and died at age 3. The family sued, saying the truck’s power brakes were faulty and that maintenance showed recurring problems. Former Atlanta U-Haul mechanic Edward Hicks told the jury that maintenance of company trucks was poor, and that his name had been forged on repair records to make it look like he had performed work when he had not. U-Haul later settled the lawsuit.

Maria Lozano-Millan & family, 1999, Arizona

Maria, 32, rented a U-Haul tow dolly for her Ford Ranger to tow a Ford Tempo belonging to her sister. While traveling on I-10 near Benson, Ariz, the Tempo began fishtailing wildly, flipping both vehicles. The pickup’s roof was crushed. Maria, her son Ryan, 7, and her sister, were all killed. The men who had rented out the tow dolly said they were never informed by U-Haul that two vehicles roughly the same weight should never be hooked in tow because of safety reasons. The company later settled with the families.

Donna Jean Cullen, 1995, Wyoming

Cullen, 32, of Helena, Montana, was pulling an Isuzu Trooper behind her Maza pickup using a tow dolly rented from U-Haul. This combination violated U-Haul’s own rules that the lead vehicle must weigh at least 750 pounds more than the tow vehicle. The two cars were nearly the same weight. While traveling on I-25, the Isuzu began swaying uncontrollably, causing both vehicles to skid sideways and roll over. Evidence showed the dolly had undergone extensive repairs days before it was rented to Cullen. U-Haul later settled with the family.

Vivian Cabasso, 1995, North Carolina

Vivian was 49 and the mother of two when she suffered a fractured skull, broken neck and shattered arm in a roll-over accident in 1995. Her fiancé had rented a U-Haul trailer to move his belongings from Florida to New York. On a stretch of I-77 near Statesville, N.C., the trailer began to sway, flipping the passenger vehicle. Cabasso’s lawsuit cited inoperable trailer brakes. U-Haul later settled the suit.