Family sues ASD over woman’s snow-plow death
The family of a woman killed by an Anchorage School District snow-plowing truck nearly two years ago is suing the district, saying the plow’s lack of safety features and its driver’s actions made her death wrongful.
The Jan. 12 suit, filed by relatives of 57-year-old Anica Sofron, seeks at least $100,000 in damages from the district. Sofron, a pedestrian, died after she was struck Jan. 26, 2016 by a plow truck backing up in the parking lot of Begich Middle School.
Anchorage School District spokeswoman Catherine Esary said Wednesday that the district does not comment on ongoing investigations or active court matters.
The Sofrons’ attorneys, Molly Brown and Margaret Simonian, said in a complaint that ASD driver Eland Conway had been at the wheel of the truck which hit Anica for about five years before the collision. The vehicle had three rear-facing spotlights, plus an amber beacon atop it.
“The truck was a white flatbed Ford F450, registered to the ASD,” Brown and Simonian wrote. “It has a snow plow attached to the front, and a large metal gate extending up behind the back of the cab, obscuring the rear windows.”
The Ford allegedly didn’t have yellow lights or reflectors attached to the upper corners of its plow blade, as state law requires of publicly operated snow plows. Federal law requires vehicles with obstructed rear views to sound an audible backup alarm when reversing.
Inspections in 2006 and 2015 didn’t find any problems with the backup alarm, which an ASD supervisor told Anchorage police was maintained by district technicians. Investigators found that the pickup’s alarm had been disabled, however.
“The alarm’s signal wiring was dismantled and hanging next to it,” Brown and Simonian wrote. “The end of the wire was rusted, suggesting the alarm had been disabled for some period of time.”
The alarm functioned again when reconnected to the truck’s battery, the attorneys said.
According to the complaint, Conway said ASD didn’t have any requirements for when the truck’s rear lights or beacon should be used. He only used the lights when a building’s lights were off, and only used the beacon when other vehicles were present.
On the night when Sofron was struck, she had visited the school to walk her dog Red just before 10 p.m. Conway said he had seen her in the area, walking on the sidewalk and wearing dark clothing. Shortly afterward, Sofron headed toward her car; surveillance video at the school showed Conway driving past her, then heading into reverse.
“At 10:23 p.m., Mr. Conway’s truck hit Ms. Sofron and Red,” Brown and Simonian wrote. “Both Ms. Sofron and Red disappeared under the truck. The left rear and front dual tires rolled over Ms. Sofron’s entire body. Ms. Sofron reappears rolling out from the snow plow and her dog shortly thereafter.”
Police said at the time that Sofron was taken to a local hospital, where she died from her injuries. Red was treated at a veterinarian for a minor leg injury.
When police spoke with Conway, according to the suit, he said that he knew the back-up alarm didn’t work, but didn’t remember when it was last functional. He added that he was hard of hearing, didn’t check the alarm and couldn’t hear it when it didn’t work.
“Then Mr. Conway said he wrote up a request to have the alarm fixed a year or two before Ms. Sofron’s death,” Brown and Simonian wrote. “He claimed he did not unhook the alarm, but was aware that some drivers did get complaints about the noise and did unhook them. The maintenance records obtained during the police investigation did not include a write-up from Mr. Conway.”
Brown declined further comment Tuesday on behalf of the Sofrons.
Manny Creech contributed information to this story.
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