Family wants $30 million after I-20 road buckling paralyzes driver

Crews continue to assess the road buckling on I-20 in the westbound lanes in Atlanta, Georgia, on April 17, 2017. According to the Dekalb County Fire Department there were private contractors working on a gas pipe running underneath the interstate.

Credit: Henry P. Taylor

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Crews continue to assess the road buckling on I-20 in the westbound lanes in Atlanta, Georgia, on April 17, 2017. According to the Dekalb County Fire Department there were private contractors working on a gas pipe running underneath the interstate.

Credit: Henry P. Taylor

Credit: Henry P. Taylor

When a portion of I-20 essentially exploded in DeKalb County back in April, the story gained attention for its novelty, particularly since Atlanta had just seen the historic and shocking I-85 bridge collapse. Lost in much of the bewilderment over the metro area's road trouble was the story of Kwame Howard.

He was the motorcyclist, a Lithonia husband and father of five, who was driving on I-20 as it buckled, flinging him into the air. He was permanently paralyzed and has incurred some $1 million in medical bills, according to a lawsuit filed by his family.

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Kwame Howard

Kwame Howard

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Kwame Howard

The suit, filed last week in DeKalb County State Court, seeks a total of $30 million from Atlanta Gas Light and PKS Paving. AGL declined to comment on the pending litigation; PKS didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

AGL hired PKS to replace a 36-inch gas line under the interstate near Gresham Road, a job which was approved by the Georgia Department of Transportation, the suit says.

Workers ran into an obstruction when boring a new hole and decided to move to another spot. They were injecting "flowable grout" under pressure to fill the failed hole when the pressure caused the road to buckle, the suit alleges.

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The motorcycle that crashed when a portion of I-20 West buckled April 17, 2017. (Eric Stirgus / ERIC.STIRGUS@AJC.com)

The motorcycle that crashed when a portion of I-20 West buckled April 17, 2017. (Eric Stirgus / ERIC.STIRGUS@AJC.com)

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The motorcycle that crashed when a portion of I-20 West buckled April 17, 2017. (Eric Stirgus / ERIC.STIRGUS@AJC.com)

Howard flew.

When he landed, he sustained spinal, orthopedic and severe brain injuries. He’s since had numerous surgeries.

The suit says the grout procedure to fill the hole wasn’t approved by GDOT and the defendants should’ve known it was dangerous.

Howard, a beloved member of the motorcycle club Reapers MC who has the nickname “Smooth,” has been deemed totally and permanently disabled, according to the family.

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In other news: 

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The break happened near the intersection of Flat Shoals Parkway and Snapfinger Road in Lithonia.