ENID, Okla. —
Lawyers for Zaloudek Grain are asking Garfield County District Court to move a negligence trial to a different county.
Zaloudek Grain has been sued by the families of two teams injured in an Aug. 4, 2011, accident. Tyler Zander and Bryce Gannon fell into the floor auger while working at the Zaloudek Grain Elevator in Kremlin. Rescue workers labored longer than an hour to extricate the teens from the machinery before they were airlifted to OU Medical Center. Each boy lost a leg in the accident. The Zander family and Gannon family filed identical negligence lawsuits against Zaloudek Grain and its shareholders 24 days after the incident.
On Thursday, Joseph Farris, the Tulsa lawyer representing the grain company, filed a motion for change of venue “due to prejudicial pretrial publicity.”
"This case involves a tragic accident which resulted in serious injuries to Tyler Zander and Bryce Gannon,” Farris wrote. “The severity of the injuries justifiably generated much community interest and support for Zander and Gannon. The court even acknowledged at the April 22, 2013, hearing, ‘Everywhere I go, I am asked about this case.’ The publicity given to this incident in news and social media, as well as communitywide activities aimed toward supporting Zander’s and Gannon’s medical expenses and other needs, has resulted in an opinionated population in Garfield County. As a result of polling a representative sample of residents of the county, media research and a survey … it has become clear that Garfield County residents have developed biased opinions in favor of Plaintiffs and against Defendants. … This bias has made it impossible for Defendants to obtain a fair trial.”
The 501 pages Farris filed as the motion and supporting documents cite numerous examples of publicity of the incident and its aftermath, from newspapers, television stations, radio stations, Internet sites, industry publications and social media pages.
Farris also filed a report from Saxum, an Oklahoma City-based public relations company that conducted a survey of Garfield County residents.
“In this county, this incident has become part of the community’s fabric,” Saxum wrote. “A full 28 percent of those recalling the issue have personally discussed it with others (personal discussion is the second highest source of information).
“The only survey our firm can recall in which we saw this level of awareness was after the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City,” reads the executive summary of the Saxum’s findings. “Not only do residents claim familiarity, but a remarkable 21 percent have actively participated in efforts supporting the injured workers. These activities range from making financial contributions or donating blood to being active in prayer groups or in online media.”
Farris said he is not surprised by the media attention the accident and lawsuit have drawn.
“It’s a tragic story and worthy of it, and that is the case with a lot of stories,” Farris said. “You’ve got prominent families and nice people on both sides. It’s going to get a lot of media attention.”
Farris said he’s not asking for a different judge, just a different county. It should probably not be an adjacent county, he said.
Farris also filed a motion Thursday asking that a hearing be set on the motion for change of venue.
“We would like to have the people who did the research be able to testify and put it in some context,” Farris said.
Brad Gungoll, lawyer for the Zander and Gannon families, could not be reached for comment Friday.