Dead Man's Curve

Arizona Public Service's lax policies sent an APS serviceman, drunk and stoned, on a collision course with a Mesa family. Lucky for APS, the serviceman committed suicide.

Logical enough.

But after Noack committed suicide, APS argued to the court that, according to Arizona case law, the second negligence claim against APS couldn't exist without the employee, Noack, and that the negligence claim was unnecessary, as APS had admitted liability in the first count against Noack.

The judge agreed.

John Noack being treated at the 1999 accident scene.
John Noack being treated at the 1999 accident scene.
Pauline Jeffery's Escort, hanging in pines outside Payson.
Pauline Jeffery's Escort, hanging in pines outside Payson.

This legal chicanery created a gross injustice. At that point, jurors would only be allowed to see a few accident photos, along with a brief, vague admission by APS that basically said: Yes, we admit John Noack was our employee, and we admit he was drunk and stoned. We stand liable for compensatory damages because we were his employer.

Nothing about the thousands of federal violations. Nothing about the don't-ask, don't-tell policy. Nothing about ignoring federal overtime requirements. Nothing about the pattern of putting drunks into 13-ton trucks on Arizona's roads. No punishment for a company willing to endanger the people of Arizona.

The suit had been gutted. APS seemed to be home-free.

But the Jeffery family did get one bit of good news. After Judge Santana's ruling, the Arizona Supreme Court, in a separate case, said that an employer could be punished with punitive damages as part of a wrongful death suit like in the one Jeffery's mother still had against Noack.

Still, none of the evidence of APS' wider abuses will be heard by the jury.

APS has been successful in blocking all sorts of truth from the jury. For example, when it seemed as though punitive damages couldn't be sought in the case, APS agreed to let the jury see the company's net worth. After the possibility of punitive damages was restored by the state Supreme Court, after it seemed that APS might get punished a bit for its own behavior, APS asked that the jury only hear about Noack's net worth.

That's thousands instead of billions. In this scenario, punitive damages would ensure that APS officials would giggle, not reform.

Santana shot down APS' attempts to edit reality.

Still, the jury will see a badly skewed vision of the truth. Jurors will see nothing of APS' wider pattern of negligence. They will see limited testimony about the accident and hear the story of Jeffery's family. They will see only that Noack was an APS employee who acted deplorably in the death of three people, not that APS promoted a culture that led to Noack acting deplorably.

Which means, simply, that neither truth nor justice will be served.

Pauline Jeffery's five kids have been spread among uncles and aunts on the Navajo Reservation, where Jeffery herself was raised amid stifling poverty. Jeffery was the only mortar holding these children together. Their loutish father had long ago abandoned them.

(APS' attorneys have given indications they'll attempt to impeach Jeffery's character. They might stomp on her grave because she once faced a misdemeanor charge of child abandonment for leaving her daughter in a motel as she went seeking her ex-husband in local bars for not paying child support.)

The kids have severe emotional and behavioral problems stemming from the death of their mother. They desperately need intensive counseling and some financial stability in their lives.

APS' parent company, Pinnacle West, has assets of $8 billion and annual revenues of $4.6 billion. Last year, the company had an income of $327 million.

So let's end this cruel injustice right now.

APS should act as the public steward it so often claims to be. It should stop blocking the jury from seeing the full truth surrounding the death of Pauline Jeffery and her passengers.

Then APS should come forward with a public apology for endangering us and our children and for trying to cover up its negligence.

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