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$9.5 Million Awarded in Prisoner Van Fire Death

$9.5 Million Awarded In Prisoner Van Fire Death

In late February 2001, Kathryn Catalano received a $9.5 million jury award in a Tennessee U.S. District Court. She sued after her father died in an extradition van fire. Federal Extradition Agency (FEA) is a private company based in Memphis, Tennessee. For a fee, FEA transports prisoners between jurisdictions. On April 3, 2001, James Catalano was a pretrial detainee in an FEA van on its way to Florida. The van caught fire, and Catalano was burned to death.

The van had been vibrating badly for some time, but FEA officials refused to interrupt its service for repairs. Near Dickson, Tennessee the driveline separated, puncturing the fuel tank, and the van burst into flames.

Catalano was one of 6 pretrial detainees shackled in a double locked cage in the van. The drivers claim they tried to free the prisoners but were prevented by the locks on the cage. All 6 prisoners perished in the fire. See: PLN, July 1997. Experts testified that Catalano probably was alive for 2 to 7 minutes as the van burned.

The jury found FEA 100% responsible for Catalano's death and guilty of violating Catalano's civil rights.

Attorneys were unable to comment because cases involving the other deceased prisoners are still active. However, Rosemarie Bonifacio, mother of David Speakman who also died in the fire, made the well-taken observation that "they need to know that they have to transport prisoners at least as well as they do animals."

In the end, the jury awarded Kathryn Catalano $3.5 million for the civil rights violations and $6 million in punitive damages. Additional damages for FEA's negligence may be forthcoming.

Source: Associated Press

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