Dennis Mockenhaupt was driving his 2014 Ford F-150 to shop at the Pella, Iowa, Wal-Mart Supercenter when he allegedly began choking on coffee and lost consciousness as he drove through the store’s entrance on the morning of Dec. 1, 2016.
Three people were killed in the incident, including Lindsey Rietveld.
Rietveld’s mother Kristine Kohrs filed a lawsuit Thursday in Marion County, Iowa District Court against Mockenhaupt, Wal-Mart, TranSystems Corporation, Christopher Rhea and BRR Architecture Inc.
Mockenhaupt reportedly told police he could not get any air while he was choking on the coffee and eventually lost consciousness. According to airbag module data cited in the lawsuit, the vehicle began to accelerate as it grew closer to the main entrance.
Kohrs says the store entrance spans about 25 feet and is surrounded by five decorative bollards set 8 to 10 feet in front of it. The complaint says the bollards are made of an inner bollard about 6 inches in diameter, encased in a very thin steel wall and filled with concrete covered with decorative cast iron.
Mockenhaupt only hit one bollard, which shattered on impact, before crashing into the store, according to the lawsuit.
Rietveld was entering the store with her husband Robert when the crash occurred. Employee Carrie Zugg was also near the entrance and shopper Robert DeJong was sitting in a vestibule by the left wall of the entrance, the complaint states.
Rietveld’s husband saw the truck coming and moved out of the way, but the other three were unable to get out of the path of destruction. The truck first hit Rietveld and Zugg, and then DeJong.
Both Rietveld and Zugg were thrown by the impact of the truck. Rietveld’s mother claims she ended up about 15 feet inside the store entrance while Zugg was flung down the main aisle.
The F-150 continued to barrel through the store and struck DeJong’s wife, Ruth, dragging her into the produce section.
“Ruth was pinned between the truck and a large freezer, which had been struck by the truck with such force it was pushed all the way into the next aisle,” according to the complaint.
Kohrs says witnesses reported that Rietveld breathed once while her husband watched on as others tried to revive her.
Rietveld, Zugg and Ruth DeJong all died from their injuries.
According to the lawsuit, Rietveld’s official cause of death was “multiple blunt force injuries, that included multiple hemorrhages of the head and neck, fractured pelvis, ribs, T2 vertebrae and both legs, and lacerations to her liver, lungs and aorta.”
Kohrs claims TranSystems Corporation, Rhea and BRR Architecture failed to design a safe store and parking lot layout for the Pella Wal-Mart.
“To protect people and property, the industry standard for retail operators is to design and construct parking lot drive aisles so that out-of-control and/or intentionally driven vehicles cannot proceed directly for any significant distance and thus, cannot develop high rates of speed,” the complaint states.
According to local news reports, prosecutors said Mockenhaupt suffered a medical incident and he was not criminally charged. However, Kohrs accuses him of negligently operating his vehicle. Mockenhaupt could not be reached for comment on the lawsuit.
Charles Crowson, senior manager of Wal-Mart corporate communications, said in a statement, “We continue offering our prayers to the victims’ families.”
“The safety of our customers and associates is among our top priorities, and we have consultants and engineers who designed this parking lot in accordance with local laws and regulations,” Crowson said. “While we have not yet been served with this lawsuit, we take this matter seriously and will respond appropriately with the court.”
Kohrs seeks punitive damages for her daughter’s death and wants a judge to declare Wal-Mart, TranSystems, Rhea and BRR liable for their failure to design and construct a safe premises. She is represented by Jeffrey Lipman in West Des Moines, Iowa.
TranSystems Corporation is a transportation infrastructure consulting firm that drafted the site plan for Wal-Mart. Rhea is an architect for BRR Architecture Inc., a company that also drafted a site plan for Wal-Mart.
TranSystems, Rhea and BRR did not immediately respond Friday to email requests for comment.