Family Sues Utah DOT Over Teen’s Death at Sinkhole

By PAUL FOY | March 12, 2012

The family of a 15-year-old Tabiona girl who died when their Ford Excursion crashed into a 20-foot-deep sinkhole is suing the Utah Department of Transportation.

The parents of Justine Barneck said road crews failed to warn motorists of the hazard last July on state Route 35 near Tabiona.

UDOT has said it drained creek water that pooled along the highway, but another storm washed the road away.

The father survived with “severe injuries” but his daughter died when the vehicle slammed into the pit, and both were wearing seat belts, the lawsuit says.

Michael Barneck and his wife, Linda, filed the $1 million wrongful death lawsuit on Tuesday in Salt Lake City’s 3rd District Court.

The road collapsed about 11:45 p.m. July 13, 2011, cutting a hole 30 feet wide.

It was “a direct result of the saturated fill and water pressure caused by the water that UDOT failed to eliminate or warn about. The resulting hole in the road was effectively invisible in the nighttime hours,” the lawsuit states.

Michael Barneck drove state Route 35 earlier that night without mishap. He delivered his daughter’s sleep-over companion to her parent after she fell ill.

It was on the return trip – about 45 minutes later – that Barneck and one of his twin daughters plunged into the sinkhole, one of the family’s lawyers, Scott Bell, told The Associated Press.

“Michael and Linda Barneck and their family suffered the pain and anguish of losing a bright and talented girl,” the family’s lawsuit said.

UDOT said it couldn’t discuss the sinkhole or earlier repairs because of the lawsuit.

“Obviously we’re very saddened that tragic accidents like this happen,” agency spokeswoman Mindy Nelson said Thursday.

Shortly after the July accident, UDOT spokesman Scott Thompson reportedly told “Got all the water off. We left. Everything was stable. Then we had another storm come through later on that evening and the road washed away,” the news agency reported Thursday.

Nelson said Thompson is no longer employed by UDOT and that she could not discuss whether his remarks accurately reflected events leading up to the accident.

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