Family of crash victim sues distracted driver, Pizza Hut

The family of a Baton Rouge woman who died last year at the hands of a distracted deliveryman has filed suit against the 19-year-old driver and Pizza Hut, claiming the restaurant chain condones “unsafe driving practices.”

The lawsuit, filed Friday in 19th Judicial District Court, accuses Pizza Hut of encouraging drivers to use cellphones and GPS devices and “placing substantial pressure on pizza delivery drivers to make deliveries as fast as possible.”

The claim stems from an Aug. 16 pedestrian crash on Tiger Bend Road involving a Ford F-150 pickup. Pamela Walton, 57, had been standing near the side of the road about 8:15 p.m., watching her neighbors pull a lawnmower out of the ditch.

The pickup veered off the roadway and catapulted her more than 40 feet, according to court filings. The driver, Darius Shaw, told investigators he had been looking down at his cellphone GPS “to see where it was telling me to go” and initially thought he struck a mailbox.

“I thought to myself that I didn’t want my manager to be upset with me,” Shaw wrote in a voluntary statement, “so I wanted to hurry up and take the deliveries I had in my truck.”

Shaw did not stop right away, authorities have said, but he realized the full extent of the crash when he returned a short while later after completing his deliveries.

“Did I hit someone?” he asked after stepping out of his vehicle and approaching the scene. Shaw then began to cry, a deputy noted in a report, “and nearly fell to the ground, forcing me to catch him.”

Shaw was booked with negligent homicide, a felony, several days after the crash. He has since posted bail but could face up to five years in prison if convicted.

Walton was severely injured by the crash and later died at the hospital. The lawsuit says she endured “extreme physical and mental pain” for several hours.

“It’s been a devastating and emotional time for them, dealing with the loss of their mother,” said Gordon J. McKernan, the attorney for Walton’s children.

The lawsuit accuses Pizza Hut of failing to provide proper driving training and “creating a companywide culture wherein unsafe driving practices were accepted as the norm.” McKernan said his preliminary investigation suggests the chain indirectly encourages drivers to use their smartphones during deliveries.

“It’s our belief that they’re going to say they have a stated policy not to do that,” McKernan said. “But they know it occurs, and they’re not going to reprimand you for it.”

The manager of the Pizza Hut that employed Shaw at the time of the wreck declined to comment on the allegations in the lawsuit. A phone call to Pizza Hut’s corporate office was not returned Monday.