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I-Team: Construction Zone Oversight Leaves Grieving Family In Limbo

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NORTH TEXAS (CBS 11 NEWS) - You call Texas home, so you likely drive by road work every day. But what happens if someone working in a construction site hits your car? Or worse- what happens if you get hurt?

On September 13, 2013 that happened to T.D. and Charlyne Mullikin. Days before their 65th wedding anniversary, a dump truck crossed the median and landed on top of their car. Traffic came to a halt for hours. The lives of their children and grandchildren came to a halt in an instant.

Their son, Tim Mullikin, fights back tears talking about the horrible call from the Dallas police officer who gave him the news. He said, "Is your father T.D. Mullikin? I said yes. He said, is your mother?" Mullikin looks down struggling to finish his sentence. "And I said yes. I said, 'Are they dead?' And he said yes."

Mullikin and his two sisters described how "pizza night with pappa" and Sunday morning breakfasts ended. They showed pictures and laughed saying they had no idea they were the "Leave it to Beaver" family growing up. Now, they are in the middle of a court battle. They are not sure who to point fingers at because they say no one seems to be taking responsibility for what happened.

"It's not that my parents died. It's that somebody killed them," says Cheryl Fairbanks, one of their daughters.

Jose Rizo Junior, 19, was charged with criminally negligent homicide. In court testimony, he said he does not believe he is responsible. Dean Gresham, attorney for the Mullikin family, asks him, "Who do you think caused the death of Charlie and T.D. Mullikin?" Rizo answers, "The car that cut me off."

But Gresham says Rizo should have never been on the road. Rizo had a commercial driver's license, but Gresham says Rizo's employer had not met the state or federal motor carrier requirements to be on the project. "If you're going to put someone operating in a construction zone, they need to have experience. He had none. No experience, no training, no drug test, no medical certificate."

Who should have made sure Jose Rizo, Junior was qualified? Rizo was hired by his uncle, the owner of Rizo Trucking in Garland. In a deposition, Santiago Rizo says he was "unfamiliar" with many of the state and federal regulations for his drivers.

"Well, I don't have any experience with that," Rizo explained.

Austin Bridge and Road, Inc. in Irving hired Rizo trucking. According to court testimony, the Irving business follows state and federal requirements for its own employees. Butch Lowe, a superintendent at Austin Bridge and Road, confirmed in a deposition that the company does a criminal background check, a drug test, and a road test on its own employees. It also requires a copy of commercial driver's licenses and driving records as well as valid medical certificates. But, when Lowe was asked if Austin Bride and Road does the same for its subcontractors, he said, "No, sir."

"You've got at least 125-to-130 dump trucks at peak hours out on the LBJ Express Project with people they don't know if they are skilled. They know if they are competent. They don't know if they have a valid commercial driver's license," says Gresham.

The I-team found several other similar lawsuits where contractors put subcontractors behind the wheels on our roadways. Many of them involve drivers of trucks involved in accidents. The legal battle raises questions about those hired and those liable on North Texas highways and projects.

"There is no oversight by the state," says Gresham.

John Barton is Deputy Executive Director of the Texas Department of Transportation. He told me state law typically puts the liability on the main contractor. In the Mullikin case, that would be Trinity Infrastructure. But according to a court deposition, Trinity says Austin Bridge and Road never told Trinity it was hiring Rizo Trucking.

The I-Team went to Austin to find out how the state of Texas monitors this. We asked the state if the oversight was in place. "Is the state acting as an auditor to make sure the truck drivers on our road are qualified?" Barton said, "No ma'am, I'm saying we're making the contractors comply with the requirements of our contracts."

But the Mullikins say that is not happening.

"There is clearly a disconnect here where the state is failing to follow up on its own construction projects....for the safety of the motoring public," says Gresham.

"Big business or whatever you want to call it. They've got loopholes and ways to go hands off," says Fairbanks.

"It just seems like no one is accountable and has to answer." Looking at her brother and sister, Cathy Sager, the Mullikin's youngest daughter, said, "I don't want to see this happen to anyone else."

An attorney for Jose Rizo, Junior and Rizo Trucking told the I-Team he could not talk at this time because of the litigation. A spokesperson for Austin Bridge and Road sat down with us at the company but said he could not discuss the case. He sent us this statement: "As with any active litigation, our policy is not to provide any statements related to the case." An attorney for Trinity Infrastructure did not return our calls.

(©2015 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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