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Halliburton used truckers as 'decoys' in Iraq, resulting in unnecessary deaths
30 March 2005

RIVERSIDE, CALIFORNIA, March 30 (The Press Enterprise, Riverside, CA) -- The daughter of a Riverside truck driver killed in Iraq filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday accusing military contractor Halliburton Corp. of wrongful death and fraud in a deadly ambush that left her father and six other workers dead or missing.

Tony D. Johnson, a 47-year- old driver for the Halliburton subsidiary KBR, was driving one of 20 fuel trucks headed to Baghdad International Airport on April 9, 2004, when insurgents armed with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons ambushed the convoy. Johnson's remains were identified three weeks later.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Riverside, accuses Halliburton and KBR of intentionally deploying Johnson's fleet of military camouflage vehicles as a "decoy" to divert enemy forces away from a second convoy in civilian trucks also headed to the airport.

The second convoy, which traveled a different route, arrived unscathed. "Instead of ensuring their safety, Halliburton turned one of its civilian-driven convoys into an enemy decoy with no concern for the lives of the drivers, forcing them to unwittingly become silent American heroes and casualties of war," the family's attorney said in a statement released Tuesday.

Johnson's daughter, April, now 25, could not be reached for comment. His ex-wife, Kim, declined comment this week, referring questions to attorney Ramon Lopez, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Wendy Hall, a spokeswoman for Houston-based Halliburton, declined by e-mail on Monday to discuss the lawsuit. Company officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening.

"KBR's top priority has always been the safety and security of its employees," Hall wrote in her Monday e-mail. "KBR has cooperated fully as the Army has spent the past year investigating these attacks, and we will continue to do everything we can to help piece together the events of April 9."

The lawsuit is the first of several expected to be filed by Lopez's firm, which represents other drivers and their families, according to the attorney's statement.

The lawsuit alleges that the convoy, originally headed to another camp, was rerouted to the airport just hours before leaving. The trucks lacked armor plating, the drivers were unarmed, and Army reservist accompanied only some of the trucks. An August 2004 Army report found the convoy's guide had used his boot to draw a rough diagram of the route in the sand before the truckers left.

"The KBR drivers had no type of maps," the redacted report states. "Many of the drivers both military and KBR did not understand the route and knew only to follow the vehicle in front of them."

The lawsuit argues that KBR officials should have known that the convoy was headed into an "explosive war zone." Insurgents had attacked another convoy on the road just hours earlier, according to the lawsuit.

On the road, Johnson's convoy came under fire "from hundreds of enemy forces using women and children as shields," the lawsuit states. The attack left seven truckers and two soldiers dead or missing, and 11 other men wounded.

The lawsuit also accuses Halliburton of luring employees such as Johnson via deceptive advertising, which suggested that workers could earn as much as $ 200,000 but concealed the hazardous conditions in Iraq. One recruiting Web site assured civilian applicants that "with new heightened security, you'll be 100 percent safe."

The lawsuit names Halliburton and its subsidiaries KBR and Service Employees International. It seeks an unspecified amount in general and punitive damages, burial expenses, lost wages and other damages.

In her e-mail, Hall, the Halliburton spokeswoman, said that KBR "remains deeply saddened by this tragedy," but its employees in Iraq "understand the dangers and difficult conditions involved in working in a war zone."

Loved ones at Johnson's funeral last year remembered the lifelong Riverside resident as a hard-working, quiet and generous man with an easy-going manner and a good sense of humor.

"He was over there to help people, to help rebuild Iraq, and he went there for adventure," Kim Johnson said last year.