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Aug 22, 1999


A teacher who lost the use of her right hand after a monster truck flipped last year at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront while carrying 13 thrill-seekers is suing the truck’s driver, owner and the truck show’s organizer.

Joy Kubitza, 28, of Virginia Beach, was a paying passenger in the 4×4 monster truck, called the Grave Digger, when it suddenly flipped on the beach while doing high-speed twists and turns at a Monster Truck Show on Oct. 17.

She seeks $15 million in damages.

At the time of the crash, police said none of the thrill-seekers was seriously hurt. After the truck overturned, all 13 passengers were dangling upside down, strapped into their seats. Six passengers, ranging in age from 2 to 52, were treated at a hospital and released.

Kubitza said her right arm was crushed between the truck and the sand as it flipped. She was treated at a hospital, but she said doctors did not realize at the time how serious the hand injury was.

A few days later, Kubitza’s arm swelled to about three times its normal size. Since then, she has undergone four surgeries, with a fifth scheduled for later this month. She has spent 12 weeks hospitalized and has medical bills totaling more than $100,000.

She wears a “fixator” device, a series of rods to keep her wrist steady. And she has developed a condition in which her fingers have become twisted and useless.

As a result, Kubitza had to quit her job as a preschool teacher at the Norfolk Naval Base Child Development Center. She continues to suffer constant, burning pain up and down her arm.

“It’s all the time, the pain,” Kubitza said. “It’s burning, sharp, intense. It’s like somebody is constantly putting a fire under my arm.” She takes pain medication, “but nothing seems to take the burning away,” she said.

Her attorneys, O.L. “Buzz” Gilbert and Michael L. Goodove, filed suit last week in Norfolk Circuit Court. They believe this is the first lawsuit stemming from the accident, and that Kubitza was the worst-injured passenger.

The lawsuit names three defendants: the truck’s driver, Troy L. Vinson of Chesapeake; the truck’s owner, Gravedigger 4×4 Inc. of North Carolina; and the truck show organizer, Cellar Door Entertainment Inc. of Virginia Beach.

The accident happened at the first Monster Truck Show at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront. Thousands of spectators came that day to cheer on trucks with names like Carolina Crusher, Nitemare and The Undertaker that raced over manmade sand dunes.

Farther down the resort strip, customers paid $5 each to ride in the Grave Digger, billed as “the world’s best-known monster truck” – a 1950 Chevrolet panel van with skull, crossbones and tombstone images painted on its sides. The cab is more than 10 feet off the ground.

As the truck raced around the beach, something went wrong. One passenger said at the time that the truck was “doing doughnuts” – tight turns in the sand – and was going fast when he thought, “Gee, we could tip over.” And then it did.

Another driver at the show said a wave caught the Grave Digger’s right rear tire and flipped the truck. Gilbert, however, said Wednesday that other witnesses did not see a wave and that the truck did not flip at the shoreline.

Police later said Vinson was driving at an unsafe speed, but because the accident did not happen on a road, he was not charged.

Kubitza declined to say how the accident happened.

The lawsuit accuses Vinson and the Gravedigger company of negligently operating the truck. It accuses Cellar Door of negligently supervising the truck and negligently selecting and preparing the site and production.

Vinson and officials from Gravedigger could not be reached for comment. Cellar Door officials declined to comment.

Despite the accident, the Grave Digger is scheduled to appear again at this year’s Monster Truck Show, Oct. 15 to 17 at the Oceanfront.

Kubitza has advice for anyone thinking of riding in the truck: “No way. Don’t go on it.”