By AMY LINDBLOM
A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed against a young Sonora man who caused a vehicle crash on Tuolumne Road that killed a Murphys man.
Joseph Opie, 22, was driving his father's pickup on July 11, 2002, when he fell asleep at the wheel, crossed over the yellow dividing line on Tuolumne Road and hit a U.S. Postal Jeep driven by William Gillaspie, 44, of Murphys.
Gillaspie was a mail carrier based out of the South Washington Street post office. He was on his way to deliver an Express Mail package when the afternoon crash happened south of Lambert Lake Road.
Gillaspie, a Postal Service employee for six years, had to be cut free of his seat belt by a fire crew. He was taken by helicopter to a Modesto hospital, where he died that night from his injuries.
Opie was charged with misdemeanor vehicular man-slaughter without gross negligence, crossing over the median line and speeding.
On June 12, Opie pleaded no contest in Tuolumne County Superior Court to the vehicular manslaughter charge and was sentenced to three years probation, community service and fined $1,000.
The other two charges were dismissed in exchange for the plea, according to court documents.
Kenneth Foley, a San Andreas attorney, filed the wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of widow Kathy Gillaspie and her teenage son against Opie and the truck's registered owners, his father, Jim Opie Jr., and his grandmother, Pearl Opie.
The suit seeks reimbursement of medical, hospital costs and general damages, but no punitive damages.
"This was just a negligent act that unfortunately resulted in a death," Foley said.
Jim Opie Jr. owns Opie's Garage on Shaws Flat Road. The Opie family has lived in Tuolumne County since the 1800s.
Jim Opie said yesterday that he didn't know about the suit, but was not surprised it had been filed.
"I knew it was going to happen," Opie said. "He (Joseph) is going to live with this the rest of his life. Every time he sees a mail truck he is going to be reminded.