Drilling company settles big in death case in Cleburne

Rhonda Kay Henson of Cleburne was raising three boys and working as an assistant at Ben E. Keith Foods when her life ended tragically in September

Henson, 41, and her husband, Thomas, were driving south toward Venus on Farm Road 157 when heavy equipment being hauled to a gas-drilling site flew off a northbound 18-wheeler and smashed into their car.

Rhonda Henson died a short time later.

Last week, Henson’s family and Pioneer Drilling, which employed the truck driver involved in the crash, reached a $16 million settlement in a wrongful-death lawsuit. The trial was in the 413th District Court in Cleburne.

Attorneys for Pioneer did not return calls seeking comment.

“It was a very tragic and unusual case,” said John Hart, a Fort Worth attorney who represented the Hensons.

Hart described how a 24,000-pound counterweight and a 4,000-pound spreader bar fell off the 18-wheeler. The spreader bar hit the front end of the car, crushing the vehicle, he said.

During testimony, Hart said, evidence was presented that the truck driver, Daniel Armstrong, didn’t meet the federal and state safety guidelines to drive the 18-wheeler. Armstrong was a “swamper” — a truck driver’s helper — and was hauling the load by himself. The equipment was secured with only two chains instead of the four that are required, Hart said.

Venus police reports said that Armstrong didn’t control his speed and that the load wasn’t properly secured.

During testimony, Armstrong also admitted that after the accident, he and other Pioneer employees back-dated documents showing that he was qualified to drive to a week before the crash, Hart said.

At that point, Judge William Bosworth called for a recess to allow Armstrong to consult with defense attorney Bill Mason of Cleburne. No additional charges have been filed.

After the recess was called, the case was settled.

“It wasn’t about money for the Henson family,” Hart said. “This lawsuit was about accountability and responsibility.”

Fort Worth Star Telegram

Congratulations to my friend, John Hart, for exposing this company’s corruption.

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