Cutrale, Woman’s Family Settle

AUBURNDALE – Wednesday, March 31, 2004 | The family of a 26-year-old Auburndale woman who died last year after her vehicle struck a truck owned by Cutrale Citrus Juices USA Inc. has settled with the company.

Cutrale, at 602 McKean St., Auburndale, agreed to pay the family of Rebekah Slaughter $2 million. A trial date was set in June, but because both sides were able to settle, the lawsuit against Cutrale has been dropped.

This is a case of the legal system working, said Lance Holden, a lawyer for the Slaughter family.

“If you take somebody’s life, you’re going to be accountable for it,” said Holden, with Sharit, Bunn & Chilton P.A.

Repeated attempts to reach the lawyer and officials with Cutrale were unsuccessful.

Holden said he and his partner, Scott Bunn, uncovered safety, maintenance and hiring mistakes made by Cutrale. The company wasn’t conducting the required safety and maintenance checks on its fleet, which is required by law, Holden said.

Timothy Jokinen, who lawyers said caused the accident, had a history of vehicle accidents, Holden said. A safety expert found that Jokinen has limited experience driving commercial motor vehicles and was fired from his previous employment for being involved in multiple accidents prior to being hired at Cutrale, Holden said.

On April 20, 2003, Jokinen, 28, was operating a 1999 Ottawa semi-tractor on Derby Avenue for Cutrale. Slaughter was heading east on Derby Avenue when her car collided with the tractor-trailer after Jokinen turned left in front of her, according to a Florida Highway Patrol report.

Slaughter’s husband, Royce Jr., and her two children, Kaitlyn and Kyleigh, were passengers in the vehicle at the time of the accident. Her husband and two children were not seriously injured at the time of the accident, the report stated.

Slaughter was born in Winter Haven. She was an optical receptionist for Eye Specialists of Mid-Florida in Winter Haven.

Holden said the family is ready to put the matter behind them.

“The family members would like to have Becky Slaughter in their lives, but Cutrale never gave them that chance,” he said. “This has disturbed them so emotionally.”