Local drunk-driving victim awarded $1.2 million
Nearly three years have passed since a 6,000-pound truck barreled head-on over Connor Zieg as he was walking with a friend on a sidewalk in Canby, leaving him with devastating injuries that would crush his dreams of becoming a U.S. Marine.
A call from Oregon Health & Science University to Canby Police that day revealed that the truck driver, Gerald Cochran, had a blood alcohol level of .285 percent, more than three times the legal limit.
Finally, Zieg was awarded $1.2 million, but will receive less than $500,000 due to the logistics of the insurance plan. And it's been a long road to get to this point.
It was May of Zieg's senior year at Canby High School. Graduation was just around the corner, and Zieg knew exactly where he was headed. He had already been training to become a U.S. Marine and in just a couple of months, he was set to leave for boot camp.
"I had a few jobs in mind," Zieg said. "I either wanted to be a standard infantry man—that was my main goal—but then I was also thinking about being a crew man, and I'd be driving tanks and the big rigs and things like that."
But none of that ever happened.
Instead, one afternoon as Zieg was walking on a sidewalk along Northwest Third Street in Canby with his friend Lauren, a truck started coming at them at 40-50 miles per hour.
Cochran was apparently so drunk that he had fallen asleep at the wheel, said Zieg's attorney Tom D'Amore, gotten his foot onto the gas pedal, and hopped up onto the sidewalk, running Zieg over and striking Lauren.
Cochran continued on down the block, running into mailboxes and power boxes, causing an explosion, and hitting cars for about a quarter of a mile until he finally drove through brush and stopped at the railroad tracks.
"Connor took the brunt of it, but [Lauren] kind of got thrown too," D'Amore said. "And we know she got thrown because her shoes got taken off, which often happens when you get hit as a pedestrian. Her shoes went flying, and one of Connor's went flying. But she was able to get up and was caring for Connor until authorities showed up."
When responders did arrive, they found Zieg in a dire state, and they transported him in a Life Flight Network helicopter to the hospital.
"[Lauren] testified that she really thought he was going to die," D'Amore said, "because his eyes were kind of rolling back in his head and he was bleeding from the mouth."
Lauren too sustained injuries, complaining of spinal pain and abdominal and chest tenderness. She was diagnosed with a concussion but did not require extended treatment, according to the Canby Police report obtained by D'Amore.
It was the emotional trauma that would linger for Lauren.
Zieg's list of physical injuries, though, goes on and on. He suffered head trauma, brain injury, broken bones and internal injuries.
Back at the scene, police located three empty 18-pack Keystone Light beer boxes in one of the truck's tool boxes. There was an additional empty 18-pack in the trailer. A large garbage bag was filled with empty cans. One-dollar bills were scattered throughout the cab, and one deputy located a glass marijuana pipe on the floorboard of the truck.
Cochran eventually pleaded guilty to two counts of assault in the third degree, driving under the influence of intoxicants and criminal mischief in the second degree.
For each of the two assault charges, records show he was sentenced to 24 months in prison plus three years of post-prison supervision; for the DUII, he was sentenced to one year in the county jail; and for the criminal mischief, he was sentenced to 60 days in the county jail.
But that didn't take away Zieg's injuries, and in fact, that's not even what Zieg wanted for the driver.
"It happened, and I don't really care about him going to jail or anything like that; I just want him to get treatment, like [Alcoholics Anonymous] meetings and things like that and to get himself better, his health better, rather than him suffering," Zieg said.
Zieg's injuries had caused him to miss boot camp, but he had made a remarkable recovery and still had hope. He worked hard over the course of the next year or more and attempted to reenlist.
But the Marine's medical evaluator was clear: "Based on a review of the available medical information, the subject applicant DOES NOT meet established physical standards due to history of thoracic surgery with chest tube placement for traumatic chest trauma and traumatic brain injury. A waiver of the physical standards IS NOT recommended."
Zieg's Marine dreams were officially crushed.
And receiving compensation wouldn't come easy as Cochran had been underinsured. Zieg's family had been insured with Safeco for 41 years. However, Safeco refused to pay the policy limits and forced Zieg to go to arbitration.
"It was still very emotional even at the arbitration," D'Amore said. "Not something you wanna see or be a part of."
The arbitrators saw the merits of Zieg's claim and his losses and ordered Safeco to pay more than $1.2 million. This amount took into account the thousands of dollars of medical expenses, permanent injuries and interference with his life, as well as the loss of a military career.
However, his parents' insurance plan allowed for only $500,000, according to Zieg's mother Brigitte Zieg, and costs for attorneys and experts will be deducted from that.
"I'm glad that it's all done and taken care of, and…you move on forward and onto the next thing," Zieg said.
Currently, Zieg is working at a restaurant and is deciding on his next step, which may involve going back to school or getting into a trade.
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