As reported in the Idaho Press, BSR Ventures dba Advanced Heating and Cooling accepted judgment against it for $5 million to compensate the four adult daughters of Cheryl Miller of Dietrich Idaho who was killed by Advanced’s employee Larry Halbert in a drunk-driving crash in 2017.
Our firm represented the Miller family in this wrongful death case and obtained the judgment using the provisions of section 12-301 of the Idaho Code. Fourth District Court Judge Lynn Norton entered the judgment awarding the money to the family on January 3, 2020. Advanced Heating and Cooling is a business name assumed by BSR Ventures. Halbert and one of Advanced’s Owners, Brandon Romero, had a long relationship andin the past had worked together closely. Romero had formerly been married to Halbert’s aunt. Halbert had 7 prior DUI convictions in Idaho including 2 felony DUI convictions prior to being hired. He also had been charged with, but not convicted of, a DUI in Washington State.
The lawsuit arose out of a December. 13, 2017, crash on U.S. 93 in Jerome County. Halbert, was driving his Advanced Heating and Cooling company truck at the time of the collision. He crossed the highway’s center line just before 7 p.m crashing head-on into Cheryl Miller’s car at highway speeds. Cheryl, who was returning home from Christmas shopping for her grandchildren,suffered massive injuries and died at the scene of the crash.
The family asked us to issue the following public statement.
Statement of the Family of Cheryl Miller Regarding Resolution of Miller et. al v. Halbert & Advanced Heating
On December 13, 2017, our lives changed forever when an offender driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of more than three times the legal limit struck and killed Cheri Miller, our beloved mother, grandmother and friend. This resulted in the offender’s third felony and 8th overall DUI conviction along with a felony vehicular manslaughter conviction. The offender is in jail where he belongs.
Compounding this senseless tragedy is the fact that Cheri’s killer was driving the Advanced Heating & Cooling company truck assigned to him by his employer despite his decades-long history of alcohol-related driving crimes. He was on parole for his second felony DUI when it hired him, assigned him the truck and at the time of the collision. We learned of times the company had warnings that the offender was drinking and did not intervene to take the vehicle.
No prison sentence or civil settlement could ever bring Cheri back. The holes her preventable death left in our lives and the lives of the community of people she served throughout her life can never be filled.This tragedy and all the resulting legal proceedings should serve as an example to, and open the eyes of, those who would choose to get behind the wheel after drinking.
It is important that all businesses who put employees on the road learn from this civil judgment that they have an obligation to conduct meaningful background reviews of potential employees. Employers must not ignore multiple warnings of dangerous behaviors by those they employ. And further, they should accept the necessity of monitoring employees entrusted with company vehicles. Particularly employees with a history like the driver here.
No other family should ever be faced with this type of preventable loss.
It is our most sincere and significant hope that this civil judgment will make our roads safer and will help prevent another family and community from losing a loved one to drunk driving.
Prior to the collision, Halbert had been drinking at a bar in Shoshone. He had also been drinking Fireball in the truck and there were empty beer cans at the crash scene as well. His blood alcohol content was over three times the legal limit when measured after the crash. More details on the criminal proceedings were reported in the Magiic Valley Times-News. Almost two years after the collision, Halbert pleaded guilty to felony vehicular manslaughter and and a felony driving under the influence charge.
In December of 2019, Judge Rosemary Emory of Jerome sentenced Halbert to a fixed 15 years in prison for the vehicular manslaughter. It is to be served consecutively to the current sentence for the felony DUI he was on parole for at the time of the crash. That sentence will not be fully served until 2022. She also suspended his license for life. She sentenced him to an addition one year fixed and nine years indeterminate for the felony DUI. This means he must serve out his current term, serve the 15 years for vehicular manslaughter and then serve another year prior to being eligible for parole again. At a minimum Halbert should be incarcerated until 2028.
John Kluksdal and Kurt Holzer, our attorneys who worked on the case, believe there is evidence that shows the company’s owners, particularly Brandon Romero, were aware of defendant Halbert’s drinking habits and that he was engaged in drinking and driving the company vehicle. Their entrustment of a company vehicle to him without sufficient supervision was in our view reckless and ignored the real and proven danger Halbert presented to the public with his drinking and driving habits.
As plead in the initiating complaint, our assessment is that there was a culture within the company that “allowed and approved of this conduct.”