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Family receives $12 million verdict in fatal 2010 crash

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Jury faults road builder, driver

By Mike Wright

INVERNESS — A jury on Wednesday awarded $12 million to an Inverness family whose loved one died in a 2010 traffic crash on County Road 491 in Beverly Hills.

In doing so, the jury placed 55 percent of the blame with the Citrus Springs woman whose Ford Explorer crashed with Katherine Wheeler’s minivan, and 45 percent with D.A.B. Constructors Inc., the Inglis-based road builder whose resurfacing project was the focal point of the plaintiff’s case.

Wheeler’s husband of 25 years, Paul, and her mother Mary Ann Brennan sued D.A.B., Jacqueline Vichot and Antonio Vichot for negligence.

Paul Wheeler accused D.A.B. of faulty roadwork, saying workers created a sharp drop-off on the road’s shoulder when they added three inches of asphalt to the pavement.

Jacqueline Vichot, heading south on C.R. 491, went off the road and overcorrected, veering into the northbound lane and into Wheeler’s minivan. The Jan. 29, 2010, crash killed Katherine Wheeler, 50, who was headed to Gainesville with her mother.

The Wheelers’ attorney, Keith Taylor, said he was surprised the jury didn’t place more fault with D.A.B.

“It should have at least been the other way around,” he said, referring to the burden of fault. “It was pretty well-documented they allowed a hazardous condition to exist for 14 days.”

Attorneys for D.A.B. and the Vichots could not be reached for comment.

The jury awarded $3 million each to Paul Wheeler and his wife’s mother and $2 million each to Wheeler’s three children.

Taylor conceded that collecting the Vichots’ portion of the verdict could prove difficult.

“They don’t have much insurance,” Taylor said.

D.A.B. has 30 days to appeal the verdict. Taylor said he doesn’t believe D.A.B. has a basis for appeal.

He said: “I think D.A.B. got the benefit of the ruling.”

Contact Chronicle reporter Mike Wright at 352-563-3228 or mwright@chronicleonline.com.