$13.1M verdict reached over Shadyside teen's death

WHEELING – A $13.1 verdict has been reached in a lawsuit involving the 2008 death of a 16-year-old Shadyside High School student.

On July 28, 2008, a motorcycle being driven by Lauren Decker, 21 at the time of the accident, struck a vehicle at the intersection of 48th Street and Central Avenue in Wheeling. Devron P. Lunsford was a passenger on the motorcycle.

Decker and Lunsford were thrown off of the motorcycle. Decker's injuries were minor, but Lunsford died on Aug. 17, 2008, at Ohio Valley Medical Center as a result of the injuries she sustained.

The motorcycle was reportedly traveling at a high rate of speed when it struck the vehicle.

While Decker was out on bond, it was discovered she had tested positive for cocaine use and she was taken to the Belmont County jail. She remained in jail, having her bond permanently revoked pending the trial for Lunsford's death.

In 2009, Decker pleaded no contest to the charge of aggravated vehicular homicide and was sentenced to four years in the reformatory for women. She also had her driving privileges revoked for life.

Decker was granted judicial release on May 13 after only serving approximately half of her sentence.

Along with the judicial release, Decker will have to spend six months at the East Ohio Correctional Center for Women, where she will have to complete a program before being released. She also must continue drug and alcohol counseling. If she fails the program she will have to complete the previous four-year term.

According to the June 23 verdict, Lunsford's estate is to receive $750,000 for physical pain and suffering; $750,000 for emotional pain and suffering; $314,588 for medical bills; $28,014.20 for funeral bills; and $1.583 million for lost income.

Lunsford's parents, Joyce and Steve Lunsford, and her brother, Justin Lunsford are to receive $600,000 for sorrow; $1 million for mental anguish; $600,000 for solace; $300,000 for loss of society; $1 million for loss of companionship and comfort; $600,000 for loss of guidance and advice; $300,000 for loss of kindly offices; and $300,000 for loss of services, protection, care and assistance, the verdict states. The defendants are also ordered to pay a total of $5 million in punitive damages.

"This verdict demonstrates that the community will not tolerate reckless conduct," said Robert P. Fitzsimmons, one of the plaintiff's attorneys. "This shows that the people of West Virginia truly appreciate and value life."

It also should be noted that the Family Purpose Doctrine was extended to establish liability against the owner of the motorcycle. The owner of the motorcycle -- 58-year-old James Meintel -- and Decker, the 21-year-old driver -- were living together, but were not related by blood or marriage.

The Lunsfords were represented by Fitzsimmons, Clayton Fitzsimmons and Charlie Bean.

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