West family files wrongful death complaints against Petal

By HASKEL BURNS,

The family of Terry and Gage West, the father and son that were killed in a 2017 wastewater lift station accident, has filed wrongful death complaints against the city of Petal.

Documents from Forrest County Circuit Court dated June 12 show that Ariel West has filed on behalf of Terry West, while Tania West has filed on behalf of Gage West. Ariel West is the daughter of Terry West, while Tania West is the mother of Gage West.

The complaints – which were submitted by attorneys William C. Walter of Hattiesburg and John G. Holaday of Flowood – demand a trial by judge and request the defendants be held responsible for all compensatory and punitive damages, in addition to costs, expenses and attorney fees.

“(Terry and Gage) West suffered severe emotional, mental and physical pain and suffering, the loss of (their) life, hedonic damages, loss of the enjoyment of life … ,” the complaint states. “The wrongful death beneficiaries … also suffered mental and emotional pain and suffering as well as the loss of their loved one(s) and all other damages available under Mississippi law.”

Terry West, 45, and his son, Gage West, 20, both of Brandon, were killed June 13, 2017 while performing maintenance at the lift station at West Seventh Avenue and Short South Street in Petal. Gage West was overcome and rendered unconscious by methane fumes, as was Terry West after he attempted to rescue his son.

Both men, who were at the time employees of Scoggins Welding & Machine Shop in Richland, died at the scene.

The complaints allege the defendants were negligent  in numerous ways, including but not limited to: failing to assure the lift station was reasonably safe for workers; failing to assure that officials were at the lift station to render first aid if needed; failing to assure the lift station was properly ventilated; and failing to provide proper means to exit the station in the event of an emergency.

“Defendants’ conduct was grossly negligent and reckless evidencing a wanton, reckless disregard for the rights of others including the (Wests),” the complaint states. “As such, Plaintiff and the other wrongful death beneficiaries of (the Wests) are entitled to an award of punitive damages.”

Petal Mayor Hal Marx was unable to comment on the complaints, as they are in litigation.

After the accident, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration conducted an investigation and cited Scoggins Welding & Machine Shop for nine serious violations. The company was fined for not having a person on hand who is certified in first aid at the work site in the absence of a local doctor or hospital nearby.

OSHA also found that emergency equipment was not available to Terry and Gage West, and the company did not have the equipment needed for safely entering and leaving the lift station.

The initial penalty for the men’s death was $42,555, some of which has since been abated. OSHA’s report is currently still open.