Storm chaser Weather Channel lawsuit, drivers and did nothing about it.
The two storm chasers were driving 70 mph, racing after a tornado and live-streaming video for The Weather Channel, when they ran a stop sign and crashed into a Jeep, killing its driver and themselves, according to a new lawsuit.
Alleging in a $125 million wrongful death lawsuit that The Weather Channel knew its storm chasers were reckless, dangerous drivers and did nothing about it, the estate of the deceased victim, Corbin Jaeger, and his mother, Karen Di Piazza, are now suing the TV station and 15 affiliates, as well as the estates of the two deceased storm chasers, Kelley Gene Williamson and Randall Yarnall.
“TWC had the opportunity to pull these two individuals off the road or hire a competent, law abiding driver,” alleged the March 26 complaint in Di Piazza v. Weather Group Television, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas in Lubbock. “Instead, TWC made Williamson and Yarnall television stars, breaking laws, driving on private property, driving off road, in ditches, through hail storms, drive the wrong way on freeway ramps, on the wrong side of the roadway, through red lights and stop signs, all to increase the sense of danger to their television audience and sell advertising and have a hit show. The result was the death of young Corbin Lee Jaeger.”
Weather Channel spokeswoman Katie Shuford didn’t respond to a request for comment before deadline, but Tolu Onafowokan of Sunshine Sachs, the Weather Channel’s public relations agency, emailed a statement from the channel.
“We are saddened by the loss of Corbin Jaeger, Kelley Williamson, and Randy Yarnall. They were beloved members of the weather community and our deepest sympathies go out to the families and loved ones of all involved. We cannot comment on pending litigation,” said the statement.
San Diego lawyer Robert Ball, who represents the plaintiffs, said the culture at The Weather Channel is the most appalling thing to him.
”It’s a game to The Weather Channel, to be putting people out there ostensibly to report on severe weather so they can warn residents, then have employees out there running around and in this case killing Corbin,” Ball said.
The complaint explained that Yarnall and Williamson were storm chasers and TV personalities for The Weather Channel on the show “Storm Wranglers.” Their Suburban vehicle was filled with broadcasting, radar and storm equipment, and they drove around the United States shooting video of tornadoes and other severe weather. In The Weather Channel’s studios, employees worked closely with them on live-streams, and anchors would interview them about exciting footage. The employees would give instructions about where to point the cameras to get footage, or where to drive to shoot the next storm.
When the car crash happened in March 2017, Yarnall was driving and Williamson was a passenger. It was raining, and they were chasing the storm and live-streaming footage to Facebook live and YouTube. During the video, they took calls from Weather Channel employees. Their video froze just before the moment they ran a stop sign and crashed into Jaeger’s Jeep.
“The failure to stop at this stop sign was defendants’ fourth such traffic violation that day,” the complaint said.
Watching the pair’s YouTube channel shows a “well-documented history of dangerous behavior behind the wheel,” the complaint said. They disregarded basic safety laws. In just 14 of 223 videos they posted, they ran 80 stop signs, four red lights and one non-working light. Williamson would say “clear” to let Yarnall know to ignore a stop signal, the complaint said.
Also, their gear—cellphones, computers, cameras and consoles—obstructed the Suburban’s windshield and limited the driver’s field of vision, alleged the complaint.
It said The Weather Channel knew the pair was dangerous.
Another storm chaser exchanged a series of text messages with a Storm Wranglers producer, expressing concerns about Williamson and Yarnall’s inexperience. Four months later, the producer texted the concerned storm chaser after one video showed Williamson driving 90 mph while chasing a storm. The producer wrote that Williamson “put himself in a VERY bad spot, live on air, so god forbid if anything happened,” alleged the complaint. The storm chaser responded that he and another storm chaser had tried educating Williamson about safety, and he worried Williamson would kill himself or someone else.
After the accident that killed Jaeger, Williamson and Yarnall, it was another storm chaser who first arrived at the scene, before emergency personnel. This storm chaser notified The Weather Channel immediately. The complaint claimed that later, police were speaking with the storm chaser, and he got calls from two people at The Weather Channel asking him to “get the cameras.” He refused.
Di Piazza is suing the defendants for negligence and gross negligence, wrongful death and survival. They seek to recover actual damages of $125 million, exemplary and punitive damages, attorney fees, costs and more.