Buzzard

ST. ALBANS – Prior to his indictment for operating a meth lab, a Pocahontas County man faced related criminal and civil charges for a fatality he caused nearly a decade ago in Kanawha County.

In April, The West Virginia Record reported that Jody Ray Johnson of St. Albans pled guilty in Pocahontas Circuit Court on March 28 to a charge of information he attempted to operate a clandestine laboratory. In exchange for his guilty plea, Pocahontas County Prosecutor Walt W. Weiford agreed to dismiss a charge of operating a clandestine lab the grand jury returned against him on Dec. 4.

Records show that in addition to Johnson, 30, the grand jury also returned indictments against his alleged co-conspirators, Mary K. Cyrus, and her son, Shawn W. Buzzard, for operating a meth lab. Though Cyrus, 53, pled not guilty to the charge during her arraignment Dec. 6, Buzzard has never answered the charge against him.

According to court records, he was neither arrested during the initial raid West Virginia State Police conducted on Nov. 10 nor during his scheduled arraignment also on Dec. 6. Following his failure to appear in court, a capias was issued for his arrest.
Almost nine years to the day police raided the Cyrus/Buzzard home in Marlinton for methamphetamine production, they made a call to their home in St. Albans following a wreck that left one of Buzzard's friends dead, and another injured. Records show, that both a GOP attorney general hopeful, and the current Kanawha County Sheriff played supporting roles in the drama that unfolded from that night.

A tragic day

According to court records, Buzzard, along with Christopher Troy Holstein and Ronald G. "Pete" Poff III, spent the evening of Nov. 15, 1998 at the Floating R, a bar located at 7030 MacCorkle Ave. in Jefferson. For reasons not immediately clear, Buzzard borrowed a 1991 Ford Escort from Eric Howard and Vicki Morgan, of Blue Ridge, Va. to drive home.

At 3:39 a.m. on Nov. 16, Buzzard, with Holstein in the passenger seat and Poff in the back, was approaching his home at 815 Coal River Road in St. Albans, when he lost control of the vehicle, sideswiped a 1993 Dodge Caravan and collided with a utility pole in front of his house. All three were later transported to CAMC-General with Buzzard and Holstein rushed into surgery.

Though Buzzard came out of surgery, Holstein did not. Court records show he was pronounced dead at 7:43 a.m. as result of injuries sustained from the crash.

He died two weeks shy of his 22nd birthday.

A month later, then-Assistant Kanawha County Prosecutor Steve Revercomb subpoenaed Buzzard's and Holstein's medical records relating to the crash. Buzzard's toxicology screening reveled "alcohol, THC, Benzodiazepine and Cocaine Metabolite in his blood at the time he was treated."

Also, records show Holstein's blood alcohol content, at the time he was admitted, to be .13 percent ethyl alcohol, but negative for drugs. By the time he died, his BAC dropped to 0.08.

Last year, Revercomb was tapped by the Kanawha County Commission to fill the vacancy created by former Prosecutor Bill Charnock, who resigned to avoid being indicted he misused state resources while executive director of the state Prosecuting Attorney's Institute. Revercomb declined to run for a full term this year.

During its September 1999 term, the Kanawha County grand jury indicted Buzzard on one felony count of DUI causing death. Accompanied by his court-appointed attorney, Assistant Kanawha County Public Defender Barbara Brown, Buzzard pled not guilty during his arraignment on Jan. 4, 2000.

Then-Kanawha Circuit Judge Andrew MacQueen set Buzzard's trial for March 27, and released him on $5,000 bond. Records show, Buzzard's bond was posted by his mother and step-father, Mary and Keith C. Lucas.

Civil suits

Four months prior to his indictment, records show Buzzard was named as a co-defendant in collateral civil suits. On May 25, 1999, with the assistance of Charleston attorney E. William Harvitz, Poff and Pauline E. Holstein, Christopher's mother and the administrix of his estate, filed a personal injury and wrongful death suit, respectively, against Buzzard.

Also named in the suits were the Floating R, and Howard and Morgan, the owners of the Ford Escort Buzzard borrowed the morning of the wreck. Though records show they remained as defendants throughout the suits, they were never forced to settle any claims nor held in any way responsible for Poff's injuries and Holstein's death.

On Aug. 24, 1999, Harvitz filed an uninsured/underinsured claim against Allstate for lack of coverage Buzzard had the morning of the wreck. In their reply dated Sept. 20, Allstate's attorneys, Daniel M. Greear and Marsha L. Williams, with the Charleston law firm of Kesner, Kesner and Bramble, asked that the suit be dismissed saying that the "injuries and damages of which Plaintiff complains, if they exist, were proximately caused by the acts or acts of persons other than the uninsured motorist."

Also, Greear filed a protective order asking that Buzzard not reply to any discovery requests or give any depositions in the case since, by then, he'd been indicted for Holstein's death.

Almost a year later on Aug. 11, 2000 Judge James Stucky set the case for mediation on Oct. 3. Records show on Sept. 27, Greear and Harvitz in a joint motion asked for the mediation to be postponed because "Two recent depositions of fact witnesses have ... [revealed] two possible liability insurance policies which may cover the actions of the Defendant, Shawn Wesley Buzzard, in the present case."

Court records show the depositions to which they were referring were taken on Sept. 26 of Lucas and Danae Cyrus, her nephew's wife. At the time of their depositions, Mary listed her address at 815 Coal River Road in St. Albans, and Cyrus as 1826 Lotus Drive in Charleston.

Stucky granted the motion, and moved the mediation to April 3, 2001. However, he moved it again to Oct. 23 after Greear, on March 6 asked it be postponed due to the criminal case against Buzzard still be unresolved.

Buzzard cops a plea

On April 13, Brown asked that the case be dismissed "due to the state's breech of its duty to preserve evidence." Though discovery, Brown said she found "the state reveled that it does not have measurements from the accident scene, or reports of the nature and extent of the damage to the vehicle (s) or photographs of the scene or of the vehicle(s) involved in the accident."

According to court records, then-Capt. Michael Y. Rutherford of the Kanawha County Sheriff's Department responded to the wreck. A sketch and narrative he made of the accident scene is contained in the court file.

In 2004, Rutherford successfully ran for Sheriff. A Democrat, he is running unopposed in this year's general election.

Though Judge Louis H. "Duke" Bloom, who took over MacQueen's cases after he decided not to seek re-election in 2000, did not rule on Brown's motion, then-Kanawha County Prosecutor Michael T. Clifford offered Buzzard a deal on April 27. In exchange to pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of DUI causing death, Clifford would drop the felony charge, and recommend Buzzard be sentenced to as little as 90 days in jail, and pay of fine of $500 to $1,000.

According to court records, Bloom on July 30 sentenced Buzzard to one year in the South Central Regional Jail, and $750 in restitution to Holstein's family.

On Nov. 16, 2001, two years to the day of the fatal wreck, Brown made a motion for Bloom to reconsider Buzzard's sentence. Due to his grandfather's terminal illness, and his mother's "poor health," Brown asked that Buzzard spend the remainder of his sentence on home confinement.

Though on Nov. 19, Bloom denied the motion, Buzzard was allowed to attend Phillip E. Cyrus' funeral two days earlier on Nov. 17.

Son get bulk of settlement

About a month before he was sentenced in Christopher's death, Pauline on June 25, 2001, made an offer to settle the wrongful death suit for $120,000, with $100,000 coming from Allstate and $20,000 from Nationwide. Though records are not clear as to whom, but Nationwide was the insurance carrier for either Mary Lucas or Danae Cyrus

Under the proposed settlement, the proceeds would pay for Christopher's outstanding medical expenses, Harvitz's legal fees, $20,000 to Pauline for an "administrix fee" and the "net proceeds of this settlement to be used to purchase an annuity for the benefit of the infant heir, Christopher Troy Holstein Jr."

However, Karlayna Hoover, Christopher Jr.'s natural mother and guardian, objected to the settlement. Through her attorney, Charles W. Covert, Hoover requested Christopher Jr. receive child support from the settlement "from the time of his birth through and including his emancipation."

Court records show, on July 25, Charleston attorney Troy Giatras, who was appointed by Stucky as a guardian ad litem for Christopher Jr., recommended the settlement be approved. A revised version called for $59,442.73 "to be used to purchase an annuity form Allstate Settlement Corp. on behalf of Christopher Troy Holstein Jr."

The case, however, would not be settled for another seven months due to Hoover refusing to sign a release. On Sept. 10, 2001, Covert said because Hoover was "on drugs" she "isn't competent to execute the approved Release of Settlement agreement."

Citing Hoover's failure to sign the release and because the "parties have had to expend scarce resources and absorb additional costs," Stucky finalized the settlement and dismissed the case on Feb. 15, 2002. As per the original offer, Buzzard, via Allstate and Nationwide, would pay Holstein's estate $120,000.

From that amount, $12,000 would go to CAMC, $1,196 to General Anesthesia Services, $2,000 to Pauline Holstein, $1,870 to Lewis Holstein to cover Christopher's funeral expenses and $59,442.73 for Christopher Jr.'s annuity.

Harvitz, court records show, earned $42,981.07 from the settlement, and Giatras was paid $1,600 for his services as guardian.

Poff gets $55,000

According to court records, Poff's personal injury suit was settled five months after Holstein's wrongful death action. A settlement in the case hit a snag, too, when Poff, who was on leave from the Navy at the time of the wreck, had to prove to State Farm's satisfaction, he was a resident of St. Albans.

After filing the suit, Harvitz sought to recover damages from State Farm, the insurance carrier for Poff's stepfather, Lawrence Gresham, for underinsured motorist coverage. Upon submitting the proper documentation, State Farm agreed to settle for $35,000.
Court records show, Poff received an additional $20,00 from Nationwide. After he ordered enforcement of the settlement on April 16, 2002, then-Judge Herman Canady dismissed the case on July 16.

Since the settlement of the cases and his release from jail, court records in Kanawha and Putnam counties show Buzzard has not been any legal trouble excepting a citation for no proof of insurance on Aug. 15, 2006. Kanawha Magistrate Carol Fouty dismissed that charge 10 days later.

Last month, Geear won the Republican nomination for attorney general. In November, he faces four-term incumbent Darrell McGraw.

Pocahontas Circuit Court, Case No. 07-F-23
Kanawha Circuit Court, Case Nos. 99-F-319 (DUI causing death), 99-C-1174 (Holstein wrongful death) and 99-C-1173 (Poff personal injury)

More News