Hall County is threatening legal action against Sutphen, manufacturer of a firetruck involved in a July 22 accident that seriously injured three firefighters, if the company does not reimburse the county for the full cost of the truck, according to documents obtained by The Times through an open records request.
During a training exercise, firefighters TJ Elliott, Stephen Jackson and Will Griffin suffered back and spinal injuries when the bucket they were in atop a fire truck ladder fell 44 feet.
“… The top three sections of the fully extended ladder collapsed onto the second section when, apparently, the cables supporting the extension of the ladder failed,” County Attorney Bill Blalock wrote in a Sept. 16 letter to Sutphen of Amlin, Ohio.
Hall County alleges Sutphen knowingly or negligently misled fire officials when negotiating purchase of the truck.
Failures in the truck’s extension cables were documented by the truck’s previous owner, Bluffton Township Fire District in South Carolina, which sold it back to Sutphen in 2013 for $305,000.
“Had Hall County known of the identical failures, it would not have purchased the truck …” the letter stated.
Hall County purchased the fire truck from Sutphen for $505,000. The truck is still under the limited warranty phase, a six-month period that began when it was delivered in April.
“In fact, when questioned as to why the vehicle sold to Hall County had been returned to your company by the Bluffton Fire Department, your representatives falsely stated that it was entirely as a result of a dispute involving maintenance issues,” the letter to Sutphen stated. “Your representatives also told representatives of Hall County that Sutphen had never had a design failure.”
Sutphen called for the voluntary removal of all aerial five-section devices July 23. Several metro Atlanta counties took their firetrucks out of service as a result.
According to an investigation log obtained by The Times, Hall County received a call from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration two days after the accident reporting that the federal agency already had an open case file on the truck and its purported mishaps.
Calls to Sutphen seeking comment were not returned Friday afternoon.
The letter from the county gave the company until Oct. 15 to respond.