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Meridian company agrees to pay $5M to settle lawsuit after 2017 drunk driving fatality

According to the complaint, company leadership knew about the driver's previous DUI convictions, and other employees “complained and put defendants on notice.”
Credit: MichaB Chodyra
A judge's gavel.

BOISE, Idaho — A Meridian-based company agreed last month to pay $5 million to daughters of a Dietrich woman killed by one of its employees in a drunk-driving crash in 2017.

BSR Ventures, Advanced Heating and Cooling, and then-employee Larry Halbert of Caldwell agreed Dec. 30 to pay that sum to family members of Cheryl Miller, after attorneys representing the family made the offer to settle the suit. Fourth District Court Judge Lynn Norton on Jan. 3 entered a judgment awarding the money to the family. According to the lawsuit’s complaint, Advanced Heating and Cooling is a business name assumed by BSR Ventures.

The lawsuit stems from a Dec. 13, 2017, crash on U.S. 93 in Jerome County. Halbert, who was employed by Advanced Heating and Cooling and driving a company truck at the time, crossed the highway’s center line just before 7 p.m., according to the case’s April 2018 civil complaint.

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The truck collided head-on with a 2014 Nissan Maxima Miller was driving north. Miller died at the scene of the crash, according to the complaint.

Prosecutors would later say Halbert had been drinking at a bar in Shoshone before the crash, according to the Times-News. According to the civil complaint, his blood alcohol content was over three times the legal limit. He later pleaded guilty to felony vehicular manslaughter and felony driving under the influence.

In December, a judge in Jerome sentenced Halbert to a fixed 15 years in prison, and, the Times-News reports, suspended his license for life.

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In the civil complaint, the Miller family’s attorneys argued the company “was aware of defendant Halbert’s drinking and driving and reckless conduct, and negligently and recklessly entrusted him with a company vehicle, knowing that the public would be endangered by his drinking and driving habits.”

According to the complaint, company leadership knew about Halbert’s previous DUI convictions, and other employees “complained and put defendants on notice.”

“Defendants created a culture within their company that not only allowed and approved of this conduct, but the owners participated,” according to the complaint.

While the case did have trial dates set, those dates have since been vacated, according to the Idaho Supreme Court’s online repository.

John A. Bailey, the attorney representing the company in the suit, and John W. Kluksdal, who represented the Miller family, did not return calls Friday. A voicemail left for Bob Ginkel, president of Advanced Heating and Cooling, was not returned.

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