FRESNO, Calif.—A jury awarded more than $7 million to the family of a California church bus driver who was struck and killed by a big rig while fueling his vehicle.

The wrongful death verdict announced Thursday in Fresno County Superior Court marked the culmination of a monthlong trial following the 2009 death of John Haen, whose widow is a survivor of a 1976 school bus hijacking near Chowchilla.

The jury decided the widow, 42-year-old Sheryll Haen of Coarsegold, and her two children should receive $6.7 million for pain, suffering and loss of financial support stemming from the April 2009 incident on State Route 99 in Merced County.

The jury also awarded $514,000 to Haen’s nephew, Bodie Young, who witnessed his uncle’s death and continues to suffer from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, said his attorney, Charles Barrett.

During the trial, Sheryll Haen testified about her childhood abduction.

Her lawyer, Roger Dreyer, said her kidnapping made the circumstances of her husband’s death even more traumatic, and she was forced to go public about her experience because the big rig companies had offered only $3 million to settle the lawsuit.

John Haen, who had volunteered to drive the Sierra Pines Church of Oakhurst bus, was putting fuel into the vehicle on the side of the highway when two approaching big rigs became entangled as one attempted to pass the other. One of the trailers slammed into Haen and the bus.

Haen’s family sued the two big rig companies, Logos Group Inc. and Triple E Produce.

Dreyer said the family feels vindicated by verdict.

“Hopefully, the verdict sends a strong message that big rig drivers must pay attention,” he told the Fresno Bee.

Logos Group Inc. lawyer John Cotter said Friday he verdict was fair, noting that the plaintiffs initially sought $21 million.

“It’s substantially less than what they were looking for,” he told The Associated Press.

Triple E Produce attorney James Emerson was on vacation and unavailable for comment.

Cotter said he disagreed with the court’s decision to allow Sheryll Haen to testify about the Chowchilla kidnapping.

Dreyer said Haen’s testimony was important because her husband had helped her try to overcome her resulting fear of buses by getting his bus-driver’s license so she would feel comfortable enough to get on a bus with him.

Sheryll Haen was 7 when three armed men commandeered a school bus carrying her and 25 other summer school students in 1976. The men then buried the children and the bus driver underground in a moving van.

All of the victims survived after digging their way out when their kidnappers fell asleep.