Cop on cell phone caused fatal crash, woman alleges

CHARLESTON – An Upper Kanawha Valley woman says a deputy sheriff’s distracted driving led to the death of her mother.

David H. Duff II is named as a co-defendant in a wrongful death suit filed by Patricia Yvonne Tompa. In her complaint filed Feb. 28 in Kanawha Circuit Court, Tompa, 58 and of Glasgow, alleges her mother Emma Mae Johnson died after a three-week stay in the hospital following a collision with Duff, 40 and of Charleston, nearly 18 months ago in Quincy while he was talking on a cell phone.

According to the suit, Johnson was a passenger in a 2009 Chevy Malibu driven and owned by Melba Ballard. At about 11:10 a.m. on Oct. 7, 2011, Ballard was heading westbound on U.S. Route 60 and began making a left-hand turn onto Warrior Way, according to the suit.

As Ballard began making her turn, Duff, in a 2007 Jeep Grand Cherokee, was travelling eastbound and collided with the passenger side of the Chevy, the suit says.

According to a crash data recorder in the Jeep, Duff was travelling between 50 to 60 mph where the posted speed limit is 55 mph before he accelerated to 62 mph at the traffic light before striking Ballard’s vehicle at slightly below 60 mph.

According to the suit, Duff gave a statement on March 9 that he “was engaged in a personal conversation while talking on his personal mobile phone, without the benefit of hands-free device.” Also, he “could not state with certainty that the traffic light controlling his lane of traffic was green.”

As a result of the collision, Johnson suffered a right shoulder dislocation, right superior and inferior pelvic fractures and right sacral and bladder ruptures, the suit says. She was transported via ambulance to Charleston Area Medical Center, where she spent her 86th birthday on Oct. 17 before passing away 11 days later, the suit says.

According to her death certificate, Johnson died as a result of multiple system failure and injuries from a motor vehicle accident. Dr. David Nichols, the county medical examiner, ruled her death accidental.

As a result of Johnson’s injuries and subsequent death, Tompa maintains she’s suffered, among other things, severe and significant emotional distress, mental pain and suffering, annoyance and inconvenience, loss of physical health and well-being and loss of enjoyment of life. In her suit, Tompa avers Ballard shares responsibility for Johnson’s death as neither she nor Duff “took action to avoid the collision.”

Along with ones for wrongful death, Tompa makes claims of negligence and negligent training and supervision against the Kanawha County Commission. In West Virginia, the county commissions and sheriffs are co-employers of deputy sheriffs.

Tompa seeks unspecified damages, attorneys fees and interest. She is represented by attorneys W. Chad Noel of Morgantown and Michael A. Olivio and Travis A. Griffith of Charleston.

The case is assigned to Judge Charles E. King, Jr.

Kanawha Circuit Court case number 13-C-416

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