Driver in June’s fatal bike, car crash faces civil suit

JOHNSTOWN – The wife of a local musician who was killed while riding his bicycle in late June is suing the driver of the pickup that struck him and the company the driver works for.

Cynthia Lakata, as the administratrix of the estate of the late Edward Lakata, filed a civil negligence lawsuit on Monday in Johnstown against John P. Damphier and his employer, Cranesville Block Co. of Amsterdam. Damphier’s truck struck Lakata’s bicycle, authorities said. Mrs. Lakata is seeking a trial and unspecified punitive damages.

“Their actions consisted of reckless conduct and represented a conscious indifference to the rights of others, for which punitive damages should be awarded,” the lawsuit says of the defendants.

Court papers allege Damphier has a “propensity” to drive while impaired by prescription drugs and while using a cellular phone.

“We investigated and spoke to a number of individuals and stand by the complaint,” Lakata family attorney Cory R. Dalmata of Schenectady said today.

Cynthia Lakata, who is Johnstown’s 1st Ward councilwoman, had no comment on the lawsuit today, referring questions to her attorney.

Damphier couldn’t be reached today for comment.

The accident occurred at 9:26 a.m. June 25 while the 55-year-old Lakata was riding his bike northwest on Route 29A in the town of Johnstown, the lawsuit says. Damphier, 48, of 10 McKinley Ave., Johnstown, was operating his 2008 Chevy pickup truck in the same direction while working as a salesman for Cranesville Block, said Dalmata.

Lakata was riding his bicycle from his home in the city to his camp at Caroga Lake, family members said. The Fulton County Sheriff’s Department did not ticket Damphier for the accident, which occurred near Skunk Hollow Road.

The lawsuit, which has five separate causes of action, states that at the time of the accident, Damphier operated his truck “so carelessly, negligently, with total disregard to [Lakata’s] safety,” that it caused a collision between the vehicle and the bike. The suit alleged that action caused the victim’s “serious injuries and subsequent death.”

Court papers allege Damphier’s ability to operate his vehicle was impaired “by reason of his ingestion of prescription medications” and “his use of a cellular telephone.” The suit says Damphier “breached the duty of ordinary care to [Lakata] by failing to take proper precautions as were dictated by road conditions …”

The suit says Lakata – who suffered both internal and external injuries – was “caused to sustain conscious pain and suffering up to, including, the time of his death.”

One cause of action stated Cranesville Block also “had knowledge of its employee, John P. Damphier’s propensity towards operating motor vehicles during the course of his employment while his ability was impaired by prescription medications and/or the operation of a cellular phone.”

Other causes of action listed in the suit allege negligent hiring on the part of Cranesville Block, wrongful death, and negligent retention for Cranesville Block’s “actual knowledge” of Damphier’s “incompetence with regards to operating a motor vehicle under a state of inebriation.”

Dalmata said it is his understanding Damphier is still employed by Cranesville Block. He said the investigation by his office – the DeLorenzo Law Firm – included interviews with Damphier’s co-workers at the cement company.

Damphier was charged by Fulton County sheriff’s deputies in a more recent incident. He was arrested at 1 p.m. July 30 with driving while ability impaired by drugs, failure to keep right, improper lane usage, and possession of a controlled substance outside its original container.

Deputies charged Damphier on County Highway 107 after receiving a report of a motorist driving erratically, officials said. Damphier’s vehicle was seen crossing the white line and center line, officials said. Deputies said he was under the influence of drugs.

Damphier will appear later in Perth Town Court.

Officials said during that investigation, authorities also found Damphier previously left the scene of a property-damage accident on County Highway 107 in the town of Johnstown. For that incident, he was issued a ticket for Johnstown Town Court.

Lakata, an engineer, also had been a prominent figure on the local music scene for many years. He played with many bands, including Skyler’s Dream Team.

Michael Anich can be reached at