Family Files Civil Suit Against Teen In OC Accident
SNOW HILL - The family of an Easton man struck and killed by a vehicle while crossing Coastal Highway in June have filed a wrongful death civil suit against the driver, a 19-year-old Pennsylvania man, seeking $1.75 million in damages, but are still seeking justice in the form of some sort of criminal charges against the driver.
Shortly before 2 a.m. on June 17, Tyler Adams, 21, of Easton, and a friend, Dale Blankenship, 21, also of Easton, attempted to cross Coastal Highway between 32nd and 33rd streets when they were struck by a southbound vehicle, a Jeep Cherokee, driven by 19-year-old Brian Scott of Orwigsburg, Pa.
Blankenship was struck in the foot by the vehicle and received only minor injuries, but Adams was struck head-on and launched over the vehicle. He was transported to PRMC in Salisbury and later transferred to Shock Trauma in Baltimore where he died two days later.
At the time, the collision was treated largely as an unfortunate accident and no charges were brought against the driver. Police reports indicate Adams and Blankenship were at fault because they were not in a marked crosswalk as they attempted to cross Coastal Highway and the latter was issued a citation for 'pedestrian unsafely crossing in the path of the vehicle,' the only citation issued to any of those involved.
However, the facts of the case and consistent testimony from several witnesses paint a different picture of the events leading up to the fatal collision. Scott allegedly continued on after the collision and did not stop until he was pulled over by Ocean City Police. He was required to take an intoximeter test a short time later at OCPD headquarters and the results showed he had a breath-alcohol level of .05, which is below the legal limit for an adult driver in Maryland.
However, Scott was just 19 at the time and any level of alcohol in his system should have resulted in some criminal charges, according to the wrongful death suit filed by the victim's family late last month. In addition, an independent inquiry conducted by OC Investigations, a private firm hired by the victim's family to review the facts of the case and witness testimony, revealed Scott had alcoholic beverages in his vehicle at the time of the collision.
Several witnesses have all said Scott was speeding when he ran through a red light just prior to striking the victims and was actually accelerating. Nonetheless, the victim was determined to be at fault because he was not in a crosswalk and because he too had, allegedly, been drinking, but the medical examiner's report indicated just trace amounts of alcohol in his system.
Frustrated with the fact no charges were ever filed against Scott, despite the fact he had been drinking underage and had alcoholic beverages in his vehicle, accelerated through a red light and struck two pedestrians and continued on without stopping, Adams' family filed a wrongful death civil suit in late August seeking $750,000 in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages.
Adams' parents, Holly Davis and Daniel Shoemaker, said this week they filed the civil suit as a measure of last resort after repeated efforts to have police and prosecutors take a closer look at the facts of the case.
'In the absence of any criminal charges against the driver, it is our only venue for justice for our son,' Shoemaker said. 'It's incomprehensible to us, given the facts in the case, that no charges have been filed against the driver.'
Shoemaker said after the initial shock of the news their son had been struck and seriously injured on Coastal Highway, he and Davis took solace in the fact the driver had been caught and would be brought to justice. They soon realized Scott had not been charged with any crime, or even a traffic citation, and was released and allowed to return home to Pennsylvania. Even the vehicle, which should have been impounded at least initially as evidence, was released to Scott and his family.
As a result, Shoemaker and Davis hired OC Investigations to conduct an independent inquiry into the facts of the case. They have also hired an traffic accident reconstructionist.
'It's unconscionable that the victim's family has to hire private investigators to put pressure on the police and the state's attorney to consider charging the driver with at least something,' said Shoemaker. 'We firmly believe there is a strong case for vehicular manslaughter, but at the very least, there is the fleeing the scene and the underage alcohol charges to consider. We just want justice for our son.'
Shoemaker said he had little or no cooperation from State's Attorney Joel Todd until applying pressure based on the findings of the independent investigators. Since then, Todd has been more receptive to at least taking a closer look at the case and told the victim's family in a letter he would consider presenting the facts of the case to a grand jury. Shoemaker and Davis are expected to have a meeting with Todd this afternoon.
Officially, Todd's spokeswoman Molly Knapp said on Wednesday the state's attorney would not comment on a civil case between two private parties and she would not confirm if the prosecutor was reconsidering criminal charges against Scott. In the meantime, Scott's father emphatically refused to comment on Wednesday.
Shoemaker said on Wednesday the civil suit was simply a means to shed more light on the case.
'We're doing whatever we can,' he said. 'We're not vengeful people and we don't want to nail him to a cross, but we do want him to be held accountable.'