Restaurant family sues over crash

Tuesday, October 02
PITTSFIELD — While one son is competing for the nation's "Top Chef" title this week, another son was testifying yesterday in the Huynh family's lawsuit against a trucking company it claims destroyed its business.

On the stand in Berkshire Superior Court yesterday, Huy van Huynh recalled the accident three years ago that nearly took away everything his family had worked for since coming to the United States from Vietnam more than 20 years ago.

"We were so scared," he said. "We didn't know what to do."

On Oct. 20, 2004, a dump truck and an oil tanker collided near the intersection of Clarkson Road and West Housatonic Street, causing 7,000 gallons of No. 6 fuel oil to spill into the parking lot of the Dragon Restaurant. The accident and subsequent cleanup caused the Huynhs to close the Vietnamese eatery — which the family had operated since 1983 — for an entire year.

Huy van Huynh appeared yesterday during the first day of testimony in a jury trial regarding his family's lawsuit against the oil tanker company, ARG Trucking Corp. of Phelps, N.Y., and its driver, Matthew W. Schork of Brunswick, N.Y.

Meanwhile, Huy van Huynh's brother, Hung, a Pittsfield High School graduate who formerly worked at the family restaurant, will learn tomorrow night whether he is the winner of Bravo! TV's popular "Top Chef" series. Hung Huynh, who now lives and works in Las Vegas, is one of three finalists.

In court, the Huynh family claims that the actions of ARG and Schork resulted in its losing business and its customer base, in addition to lost wages.

It also is alleged that Thoung van Huynh, the brothers' mother, developed pneumonia that resulted in multiple bouts of headaches, coughing, fever and shortness of breath, as well as anxiety and emotional distress from inhaling the oil fumes.

In opening arguments before Superior Court Judge John A. Agostini, the Huynh family attorney, Cristobal Bonifaz of Amherst, said that Thoung van Huynh, the restaurant's cook, developed the ailments after spending three days inside the eatery trying to save food.

"After the cleanup of the restaurant, she was still sick," Bonifaz said. "She never did go back to work."

Attorney John Burke of Springfield, who represents ARG Trucking, said it took only three months to clean up the oil spill. He also said that Thoung van Huynh traveled to Florida, Paris and Vietnam in the year the restaurant was closed, and that a medical specialist would testify that her ailments had nothing to do with inhaling fumes from the spilled oil.

"The testimony, based on a review of the records, will show that there's no relationship between the pneumonia, as she claimed, and what was there," Burke said.

Huy van Huynh, currently the restaurant's manager and cook, said under questioning from Bonifaz that his mother began feeling sick the day after the spill, after spending a significant amount of time at the restaurant. But she shook it off, he said — "She's a tough lady" — until four days after the spill.

"She said she couldn't sleep and couldn't breathe," he said. "We took her to the emergency room.

"They did a bunch of tests on her the next few days. She stayed in bed."

Van Huynh said the family delayed reopening the restaurant because of his mother's health.

"She is the kitchen," he said. "She does everything."

The family advertised for another cook, but received only one response.

"One person called," Van Huynh said. "He didn't seem too professional."

The reopening also was delayed because, after the cleanup was completed, several trailers full of debris were left on the property.

"They took three or four (away) and left 20," he said.

His parents sold their home in Pittsfield when the restaurant closed after the spill and moved into an apartment near the eatery.

"They needed the income," Van Huynh said.

Testimony will resume this morning. Lawyers for both sides anticipate the trial lasting between one and two weeks.

To reach Tony Dobrowolski, (413) 496-6224.


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