Stockton man died in Monroe County last year

Staff Reporter

BAY MINETTE -- A Stockton widow accuses a Laurel, Miss., company of causing a flash fire that killed her husband last year, according to a law suit filed last month in Baldwin County Circuit Court.

James Russell "Rusty" Miller Jr., 44, died in May from injuries he received a month earlier at a job site in Monroe County, according to the suit. He was working for Palmer Petroleum on an oil well on April 11. According to the suit, vapors and gases siphoned out of the well by a vacuum truck operated by the G.B. "Boots" Smith Corp. ignited, causing the fatal fire.

Miller's wife, Laura Miller, sued the company and one of its employees, William Arnold Bell, on behalf of the estate. The suit, which has not been given a trial date, seeks undisclosed damages.

"My guy was just standing in the area and was burned up," said Mobile lawyer Skip Finkbohner, who represents Miller.

James Smith, of G.B. "Boots" Smith Corp., did not return phone calls seeking comment. Bell could not be reached for comment.

The lawsuit accuses the company of failing to properly maintain the vacuum truck. It says the firm failed to control the hazardous and combustible vapors.

"They should have maintained it. They should have done whatever was necessary to mitigate the hazard," Finkbohner said.

Although the accident occurred in Monroe County, Finkbohner said it is appropriate to try the case in Baldwin.

"She (Laura Miller) lives in Baldwin County. Baldwin County is near to all the witnesses," he said.

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