Defense making its case in Kansas State fan bus death

LAWRENCE | A Topeka lawyer testified Monday he told passengers standing on the top deck of a private bus for Kansas State University football fans to move down before the bus drove through Lawrence.

One of those passengers, 27-year-old John Green of Shawnee, hit his head and died when the Cat Tracker drove beneath a Lawrence overpass on Nov. 18, 2006, on the way to a game at the University of Kansas. A second man who had also been standing atop the double-decker bus was badly injured.

Larry Leatherman was the first witness called by the defense in the civil trial of a wrongful death lawsuit brought by Green’s widow. Several original defendants have reached confidential settlements, leaving Manhattan auto dealership Briggs Auto Group to defend the claim that it put a defective vehicle on the road.

Leatherman, who had ridden the bus several times, testified he repeatedly warned passengers on the upper deck to get down.

“I said, Look guys, you can’t be up there because stuff is a lot lower than it looks,’” Leatherman testified. “‘It’s not safe, and you need to get down. But if you’re not going to listen to me, at least make sure you are always looking forward.’ ”

The trial in Douglas County District Court has turned partly on the question of the Cat Tracker’s ownership.

Briggs Auto Group had bought the yellow school bus that was later converted into the fan bus.

But the defense contends company officer Russ Briggs had given the vehicle to a friend, Manhattan attorney Robert Pottroff, before the modification was done and some years before the accident.

Leatherman said he was present at Pottroff’s 50th birthday when Briggs gave him the bus.

He also said he took part in helping renovate the school bus into the Cat Tracker.

“There was a group of us that contribute our time and resources to help convert the bus to get it ready to go to home and away football games,” Leatherman said. “Russ was part of the group but I think he just wanted to know when the bus needed to be stored at the auto dealership’s lot.”

Leatherman said he had no knowledge of the extent of Briggs’ involvement in the conversion project after he gave the bus to Pottroff.