LUBBOCK, Texas (CN) – Storm chasers may take their lives in their hands as they pursue the latest weather phenomenon for the public’s entertainment, but what about the lives of those they encounter? A mother says her son is dead because of two storm chasers’ recklessness.
Karen Di Piazza, whose son died in a car crash with storm chasers, sued The Weather Channel and NBCUniversal for $125 million Tuesday, claiming the networks knew the storm chasers habitually ran stop signs and traffic lights while shooting.
She also names Bain Capital Investors, The Blackstone Group and the estates of deceased storm chasers Kelly Williamson and Randall Yarnall as defendants in the wrongful death lawsuit filed in Lubbock federal court. Di Piazza says her son, Corbin Lee Jaeger, was driving away from a tornado when Yarnall and Williamson ran a stop sign on March 28, 2017, near the town of Spur, Texas. All three men died.
Di Piazza claims a sport-utility vehicle driven by Yarnall and occupied by Williamson “ran a stop sign at seventy miles per hour while racing towards a tornado” to film for the second season of the pair’s “Storm Wranglers” show.
“Yarnall and Williamson had a history of reckless driving when storm chasing and when filming TWC’s television programming, which was well known among other storm chasers and TWC,” the 28-page complaint states.
It goes on to detail how other storm chasers warned The Weather Channel about the pair’s recklessness, which had already been captured on live video feeds.
Robert A. Ball of San Diego, who represents Di Piazza, said in a statement that Williams and Yarnall were not trained as meteorologists, that TWC “transformed” them into television celebrities “although they broke multiple laws, including driving on the wrong side of roadways.”
Ball said Yarnall’s vehicle was broadcasting when it collided with Di Piazza’s son’s Jeep Patriot.
“The force of the collision caused the equipment-laden Suburban to catapult over a five-foot-tall fence 150 feet from the point of impact,” he said. “Jaeger, a certified storm spotter for the National Weather Service, who had planned to return to college in Arizona to pursue a career as a meteorologist, was driving westward away from that tornado, when he was struck and killed.”
The Weather Channel did not immediately respond to an email message requesting comment Tuesday. In a statement after the collision, the network said Williamson and Yarnall “were beloved members of the weather community” and that it was “saddened by this loss and our deepest sympathies go out to the families and loved ones of all involved.”
The lawsuit claims the long-form television show was modeled after The Ultimate Fighter mixed martial arts reality show.
“The concept is introducing the storm wranglers as two heroes when they start the adventure of chasing a storm,” the complaint states. “The combination of footage and high contrast illustrations are the general look and direction of the show. The quick cuts between illustrative animation and real footage capture the heroic and urgent feeling of the show.”
The complaint claims that in fourteen videos posted on Williamson’s YouTube channel, the duo runs approximately 80 stop signs, four red lights and one out-of-service traffic light.
“Williamson, who directed Yarnall’s driving while storm chasing, can often be heard saying, ‘Clear,’ informing Yarnall that he had the go-ahead to ignore the stop signal,” the complaint states. “Further, they frequently drove at high speeds in severe weather conditions and made dangerous illegal passes of other cars, even with hail on the ground.”