Lawsuit blames KBR in driver death at Anaconda Iraq
Houston lawsuit blames Halliburton, KBR in Iraq death
KBR denies responsibility in trucker’s 2007 death at Camp Anaconda
By MARY FLOOD Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle
Feb. 6, 2009
A Michigan woman whose father was shot to death by American soldiers while driving a truck in Iraq filed a lawsuit in Houston this week against his employers, Halliburton and KBR.
Kristen Martin alleges wrongful death, fraud and conspiracy regarding the February 2007 shooting of her father, Donald Tolfree.
Guy Watts, the Austin lawyer who filed the lawsuit, said Tolfree was assured he would be protected by the U.S. military 24 hours a day. Instead, because of gross negligence and fraud on the part of his employer, he was killed by the U.S. military, Watts contends.
The lawsuit states that the family in no way blames the military, but does blame the practices of Halliburton, KBR and their affiliate Services Employees International for mistakes that led soldiers to think Tolfree might be an insurgent driving a bomb-filled truck onto a military base.
“He was recruited in Houston, oriented in Houston and assured of his safety in Houston,” Watts said in explaining why the lawsuit was filed here.
He said Tolfree’s daughter has been negotiating with the companies since her father’s death. There is some question about whether the companies told the daughter incorrectly that her father had been killed by a roadside bomb. Watts said it is very clear the companies falsely wrote in a letter to her U.S. senator 11 months after the death that Tolfree was killed by a roadside bomb.
Watts said Tolfree wasn’t properly trained on the night he was sent out as a backup for a convoy while it stayed on the base. Instead, the lawsuit states, Tolfree wound up past the base gates and, when he turned around, he did not know he wasn’t expected back and was suspected as an attacker.
Tolfree, who was in his 50s, was killed when about 100 rounds from a U.S. machine gun were fired into the cab of his truck, according to the lawsuit. Another truck also was fired upon, but the driver survived.
Several other lawsuits are pending in Houston federal courts against Halliburton and KBR concerning deaths in Iraq. Many have taken years to get to trial.
Watts said he expects the companies will claim they are not subject to lawsuits over deaths in Iraq under a law called the Defense Base Act.
Heather Browne, spokeswoman for KBR, said the company has sympathy for Tolfree’s family but denies that it is liable or responsible for his death.
“At the time of the incident at issue, Mr. Tolfree was employed by KBR pursuant to KBR’s LOGCAP III contract with the U.S. government for the purpose of supporting the U.S. military operations in Iraq. As such, any claims by Mr. Tolfree’s estate or family members against KBR arising from such incident lie solely under the Defense Base Act,” Browne wrote in an e-mail.
She said Tolfree’s truck and another KBR truck were part of a convoy controlled by the U.S. military out of Camp Anaconda when he died.
Browne said many tactical decisions at the heart of this incident are not susceptible to judicial review, including the reasonableness of the military’s escalation-of-force procedures and decision to fire on the KBR drivers. She wrote that, because so many military procedures involved can’t be reviewed by the courts, the lawsuit cannot proceed very far.
Halliburton spokeswoman Diana Gabriel said the company has not been served with the lawsuit and that, if it is related to KBR work in Iraq, Halliburton would be improperly named in this matter. (This original Houston Chronicle article has been removed)
Added 2/08/09: If you were at Camp Anaconda when this incident occurred or having any information about the incident, please contact me via the Contact Us tab above or leave a comment.