Negligence? $8 million suit filed in Grant's death

It's difficult to miss the simple sign hanging at the entrance to Spencer's 206 music shop downtown, "Dave Grant, you are missed by many friends and all your bandmates."

An accomplished bassist and, according to bandmate Chris Leva, a budding songwriter, Dave Grant died last year in a tragic workplace accident that devastated not only his wife, Darlene Crawford, and their 12-year-old son, Ryan, but all who knew him.

Last week Crawford filed an $8 million wrongful death suit against Scott's Backhoe Service Inc. and two of its employees. A lack of communication underlies the suit, according to Crawford's attorney, Bruce Rasmussen. The suit, filed May 19 in Albemarle County Circuit Court, charges "willful and wanton negligence," and outlines a series of safety failures that resulted in Grant's preventable death.

Grant was at the bottom of a six-foot trench analyzing the soil of Forest Ridge, a Buckingham County subdivision, on the morning of March 5, 2002. The trench, an "observation pit," had been excavated by Richard Taylor and John Jesse Atkins, two employees of Palmyra-based Scott's Backhoe. As operator of the backhoe, Taylor was responsible for digging new pits, while Atkins came behind refilling them.

According to the suit, with his vision obstructed by the narrowness of the pit and surrounding brush, Atkins bulldozed dirt into the pit in which Grant was working. Noticing the top of a 6-foot auger Grant used in his calculations sticking above the soil, Atkins rushed to locate a shovel. Taylor and Dave Berzonski, Grant's coworker, began digging, but were unable to save Grant's life.

The suit charges that both Taylor and Atkins acted without "reasonable care," and blames Scott's Backhoe for "negligent" training and retention of the two men. A woman who answered the phone at Scott's Backhoe refused to answer any questions, saying the company is "unable to comment on any part of the case."

Ironically, the official state investigation of the case focused on Grant's widow as the surviving principal of the now-dissolved Baseline Consulting LLC. State officials working with OSHA targeted Grant's firm for failing to immediately report the accident, for failing to shore up trench walls, and for failure to provide on-site hand-washing facilities, but the contemplated $6,500 fine was never imposed.

"This was a tragic accident," says defense lawyer Stanley Wellman. "Scott's Backhoe and its employees continue to express our condolences to the Grant family." Wellman says he had just received a copy of the suit and was not prepared to divulge any information about a response.

Despite struggling with their loss, The Guano Boys succeeded in finishing the album in the works at the time of the accident, the bittersweet Guano Happens. Leva feels lucky to have played alongside Grant, someone "so creative and as aware of so many kinds of music," he says.

Grant was known as a renaissance man who built his own house on a mountaintop near Barboursville. He was a pilot, a well-liked WTJU radio show host, and an entrepreneur who– besides his soil-testing company– performed solar energy installations.

He was "a very large soul," according to Spencer Lathrop, founder of Spencer's 206 and one of Grant's fellow musicians in the Guano Boys.

"There are thousands of opportunities," Lathrop notes simply, "to miss Dave."



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