A Grain Valley woman whose son died along with a friend in a fiery crash two years ago in Independence has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against General Motors, accusing the company of selling a defective car.
Anthony Dunlap, 19, and Michael Smith, 17, died in the June 27, 2016 crash at intersection of Missouri 291 and Salisbury Road. Dunlap was driving a 2006 Chevrolet Impala south on M-291 in the early morning hours when his vehicle inexplicably hit a curb and the concrete base of a median traffic sign before catching on fire. According to the suit, an injured Dunlap burned to death.
In addition to the automaker, the suit filed on behalf of Terri Dunlap this week in Jackson County Circuit Court lists the city of Independence, the Missouri Department of Transportation and the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission as defendants. They are listed because the concrete sign that Anthony Dunlap's car hit was in “dangerous condition,” in an unsafe location and should have been removed, as its placement violated safety standards, according to the suit.
According to the suit, alleged design and manufacturing defects “created a high probability” that if a crash happened flammable materials from the engine could spread to the cabin and cause injury or death, or cause a fire to spread too quickly for occupants to escape.
Dunlap was pronounced dead at a local hospital, police said at the time, while Smith was pronounced dead at the scene and two other passengers survived. According to police, after the collision some witnesses pulled at least one occupant and possibly a second out of the vehicle before emergency personnel arrived.
Police never determined why Anthony Dunlap's vehicle went off course and said there was no immediate sign of careless driving. Dunlap, who had graduated from Grain Valley High School a month before and was about to start work with a soda dispenser company, his family said at the time, was the designated driver in a group of four teenage boys returning from a party in Ray County.
Police in Excelsior Springs had pulled over the Impala about an hour before the crash, having heard yelling from the vehicle, which also had an inoperable license plate light. The office smelled alcohol inside, but Dunlap passed a series of field sobriety tests and showed no signs of impairment, and police found no alcohol or beverage containers inside. The officer then let the teens go because he had no legal reason to keep them.
The suit seeks an unspecified amount of damages.