United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
BRIAN VO, as personal representative of LOUIS VO (deceased), Plaintiff,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.
J. JONKER CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Christmas Eve, 2013, a postal vehicle struck and killed Louis
Vo as he walked across Porter Street on his way to Christmas
Eve mass at Our Lady of La-Vang in Wyoming, Michigan.
Plaintiff Brian Vo, as personal representative of Louis Vo,
brings this action for wrongful death against Defendant
United States of America. A bench trial took place, and
post-trial briefing is complete.
Summary of Trial Testimony
Peter Vo Witnesses the Accident
p.m. on December 24, 2013, Peter, who was twenty-three years
old at the time, picked up his grandfather, Louis Vo, to go
to Christmas Eve Mass. at Our Lady of La-Vang. It was dark
outside, and the weather was cold. Peter was wearing a light
fall jacket and no hat or gloves. It took Peter and Louis
about ten minutes to drive to the church. The church is on
Porter Street, which had two eastbound lanes and two
westbound lanes. When Peter and Louis arrived, the church
parking lot was full, and so they parked in the lot of a
business across the street from the church. It was not
unusual for members of the church to use this lot when the
church lot was full. In fact, the church posted a member with
a reflective vest to assist parishioners at the point of
and Louis exited the car and approached Porter Street.
Traffic was light. They waited for a westbound car to pass.
They looked both ways. They saw the headlights of two cars
coming from the east, far enough away that Peter judged it a
safe distance for crossing. Peter and Louis began walking
across the street. Louis was 77 years old, but he walked at
least a mile every day, was in good health, and had good
eyesight. He needed no assistance crossing the street.
Peter and Louis passed over the center line of the street and
into the third lane, Peter began to walk faster. He
accelerated his pace because he was cold and wanted momentum
crossing over a mound of snow by the curb. As he reached the
side of the road, Peter heard Vy Tran (the church member at
the crossing) call out for him to watch out for his
grandfather. Peter turned toward the street and heard the
impact. He did not see the postal truck coming until the
moment he turned and heard the impact. He saw the brake
lights of the postal truck but no headlights or other lights.
He had crossed all four lanes without seeing the postal
Vy Tran Witnesses the Accident
Tran, a member of Our Lady of La-Vang, was an
eyewitness. He testified at trial as follows. Mr. Tran
was not only a member of the church, but also served the
church as a parking and crossing attendant. The church has a
parking lot, but when the lot is full, church attendees
typically park in the building lot across the street, as
Peter and Louis did. The night of the accident, Mr. Tran was
wearing a reflective vest. The church lot became full by
around 6:00 p.m. Mr. Tran recalls Peter Vo parking in the lot
across the street from the church. He saw Peter and Louis
stop and look for cars before crossing the street. As Peter
and Louis were about to cross the street, Mr. Tran looked for
any oncoming traffic and saw none. There were no headlights
in the vicinity. But when Peter and Louis were about halfway
across the street, Mr. Tran saw the postal truck approaching
them, and he could see they were unsafe. The postal vehicle
was already too close to them. Mr. Tran called out to them. He
does not know if anyone heard him. Mr.Tran then saw the
vehicle hit Louis. He shouted to Peter that his grandfather
had been hit, and then radioed a person inside the church to
call for help. Mr. Tran knows he did not see the headlights
of the postal truck, but would not say unequivocally whether
the lights were on or off when the accident occurred because
he was not focused on the issue. He did not see brake lights
or hear any braking sound coming from the postal truck before
it hit Louis.
Son Bui Witnesses the Accident
Bui, an eyewitness, testified about his observations the
night of the accident. Mr. Bui, a member of Our Lady of La-Vang,
was en route with his family to the Christmas Eve mass. He
turned from Burlingame Avenue onto Porter Street, traveling
westbound. The intersection of Burlingame and Porter is
approximately half a mile from the church. When Mr. Bui
started driving on Porter, he did not see any taillights
ahead of him. When he drew close to the church area, he saw
that he was driving behind the postal vehicle. He did not see
any taillights as he was driving behind the postal vehicle.
Both the postal vehicle and Mr. Bui's vehicle were in the
far right lane, the lane closest to the church and the curb.
As the vehicles neared the church, Mr. Bui started moving
into the lane to the left, so he could turn left and park in
the lot across the street from the church. As his car was
about halfway into the left lane, he saw the postal vehicle
hit Louis Vo. Mr. Bui did not see brake lights come on or the
vehicle slow down before the impact occurred. He did not see
the postal vehicle's taillights at any point.
spoke with police officers who came to the scene. He told the
police that the taillights of the postal vehicle were not
illuminated. He also provided a written statement to the
police at their request. He did not mention in the written
statement that the taillights off because no one asked him
about it as he was preparing the statement.
Mr. Wieck's Involvement
Wieck drove the postal vehicle that struck Louis Vo. Mr.
Wieck joined the United States Postal Service in 1973. Mr.
Wieck is a mail carrier and has served as a union steward and
safety captain. He has a valid driver's license. For most
of his career, Mr. Wieck has driven a “long life
vehicle” to deliver the mail. He drives the same postal
vehicle every time he delivers the mail. Mr. Wieck begins
each workday by inspecting his postal vehicle as required.
The inspection includes ensuring that the lights on the
vehicle work properly. To turn on the headlights, Mr. Wieck
pulls a knob out, and to turn them off, he pushes the knob
back in. If the engine is not running, the lights go off
automatically. The lights do not come on automatically with
the engine, however. Rather, a conscious decision and action
to turn on the lights is required. After inspecting the
vehicle, Mr. Wieck turns off the engine, goes into the postal
station to pick up the mail for delivery, loads the vehicle,
and starts his route. He testified that he customarily turns
on the headlights and keeps the lights on all day, regardless
of the weather conditions.
December 24, 2013, Mr. Wieck began his workday at 7:00 a.m.
He inspected the vehicle and found the lights were working
properly. Mr. Wieck performed his usual mail route and
returned to the postal station around 6:00 p.m. He brought
his postal truck to the back dock to unload it for that day.
He turned the vehicle off. He turned the lights off or they
turned off automatically. He exited his vehicle and unloaded
it. As Mr. Wieck was standing on the dock, the night manager,
Steve Parsons, approached Mr.Wieck, and told him that he
needed to collect mail from a postal box on Lee Street.
Wieck got into his postal truck and departed for Lee Street.
From the postal station, he drove down Prairie Parkway to its
intersection with Burlingame. He turned right onto Burlingame
and traveled to the intersection with Porter, where he turned
left onto Porter, proceeding west. Traffic was sparse. Mr.
Wieck checked his speedometer. He was driving about 25 miles
per hour on Porter. As his vehicle approached the church, he
noticed some orange cones or barrels. At almost the same
time, he also noticed a man about four feet away wearing a
reflective vest. Mr. Wieck had not seen anyone crossing
Porter as he was driving down the street toward the church.
But as he was noticing the cones and the man in the
reflective vest, he suddenly saw a person immediately front
of him on the road, in his lane. Mr. Wieck estimates the
person was about six feet away from him. It appeared to
Mr. Wieck that the person was not walking, but was standing
and looking directly at his face. Mr. Wieck acknowledges the
possibility that the person had been walking and stopped and
looked at him because he was startled. Mr. Wieck slammed on
the brakes and at the same time heard a thud. He saw
something go over the left side of his vehicle. Mr. Wieck is
not sure whether the person who was looking at him is the
person his vehicle struck. Mr. Wieck stopped his vehicle in
the lane of travel, turned off the engine, and exited the
Wieck testified that his lights were on from the time he left
the postal station until he turned off the engine. He
testified that the lights must have been on because no other
drivers turned their lights off and on to signal to him that
the lights were off, and because he was able to check his
instrument panel as he was driving, even though it was dark
out. The instrument panel is illuminated when the lights are
exiting the vehicle, Mr. Wieck saw a person lying on the
ground. Mr. Wieck testified that if he had exited the truck
with his lights on, a buzzer would have sounded, and he did
not hear a buzzer when he exited the truck. Mr. Wieck shouted
for someone to call 9-1-1. He got back in his vehicle and
called his supervisor, Steve Parsons. He turned on his
vehicle's emergency flashers.
arrived at the scene and questioned Mr. Wieck. Mr. Wieck
admits he made a false statement to the police officer. In
particular, Mr. Wieck testified that he falsely told the
police that someone had run out in front of him. Mr. Wieck
testified that he made this statement because it was the only
explanation he could come up with for why the person he saw
immediately before impact was there. The admittedly false
statement was exculpatory, and Mr. Wieck did not receive a
ticket for the accident. He did not correct the false
statement to the police.
Wieck remained at the accident scene for about an hour,
possibly longer. When he left, he returned directly to the
postal station. He recalls that Mr. Parsons drove him back to
the station, where he remained for about 45 minutes. He does
not recall whether he drove himself home.
Steve Parsons's Testimony
Parsons, who was Mr. Wieck's supervisor when the accident
occurred, has worked for the USPS for about fifteen years. In
December 2013, he was the closing supervisor at the Wyoming
postal station where Mr. Wieck worked. As closing supervisor,
Mr. Parsons's duties included, among other things,
ensuring that the mail carriers picked up mail from all the
collection boxes in his zone; that all the mail was delivered
for the day; and that all of the carriers returned to the
station at the end of the day. He was able to determine
whether collection boxes had been picked up based on whether
a bar code inside each collection box had been scanned.
Parsons was working as closing supervisor on December 24,
2013. Mail volume was heavy. Mr. Parsons and the mail
carriers worked longer hours that day. Mr. Parsons tells a
different story than Mr. Wieck about what happened at the
station. According to Mr. Parsons, he first saw Mr. Wieck
return to the station around 5:30 p.m. and that he
immediately sent Mr. Wieck to pick up collection boxes in the
plaza across the street from the station. Mr. Parsons
testified that while Mr. Wieck was gone, he ran the report to
determine whether any other collection boxes had not yet been
picked up. The report revealed that there were two other
boxes that had not yet been collected. Mr. Parsons went back
outside and waited for Mr. Wieck to return. He did so because
he wanted to catch Mr. Wieck as quickly as possible, before
Mr. Wieck came inside. He watched Mr. Wieck drive back to the
station from the plaza across the street. It was dusk. Mr.
Parsons testified that Mr. Wieck's lights were on and
that he knows this because if the lights had been off, he
would have noticed, as Mr. Wieck was driving directly toward
him. Mr. Parsons also testified that a person in a postal
vehicle with the lights on at night should be able to see
ahead the distance of a city block. When Mr. Wieck reached
the parking lot, Mr. Parsons directed him to pick up the mail
from the Lee Street mail collection boxes.
accident occurred while Mr. Wieck was en route to Lee Street.
Mr. Wieck called Mr. Parsons and told him of the accident.
Mr. Parsons called his supervisor and the postmaster of Grand
Rapids and drove to the scene. When he arrived, the police
and fire departments were at the site. Mr. Wieck was standing
beside the postal vehicle. Mr. Parsons did not speak to any
police officers at the accident site. Mr. Parsons remembers
little else about this part of the evening. He testified that
he would have taken any mail from the collection boxes out of
the truck. He does not recall whether Mr. Wieck had unloaded
the collections from his regular route. Mr. Parsons returned
to the postal ...