RIPLEY -- A Cottageville couple is alleging that a road-rage incident along a rural Jackson County road last summer led to the death of their son.

On May 7, Theresa K. Smith, 47, in both her individual capacity, and as administratrix of the estate of her son, Richard Ryan Smith, and her husband, James O. Smith, 57, filed suit in Jackson Circuit Court against William Barnett, and his son, Kurtis A. Barnett.

In their complaint, filed with the assistance of David M. Jecklin with the Morgantown law firm of Gianola, Barnum, Wigal and London, the Smiths allege that Kurtis, 22, a resident of Given, caused Richard's death in August when in the midst of pursuing Richard by car, caused him to lose control of his vehicle, careen over an embankment and drown in the nearby creek.

According to court records, Smith, who was 18 at the time, was driving a vehicle James owned on Parchment Valley Road in Given on August 21. In the course of traveling along Parchment Valley, Smith passed by Barnett, who was in vehicle William owned, and preparing to exit the driveway of a church.

Upon exiting the driveway, the suit alleges Barnett began "tailing" Smith along Parchment Valley. Though records are unclear as to how long Barnett tailed Smith, his actions, nonetheless, "caused Smith to lose control of his vehicle, which then traveled through an embankment, rolled through a hay field, and came to rest on the side of a creek bank."

"During the incident," the suit alleges, "Richard Ryan Smith was thrown from his vehicle into the creek and was drowned."

According to his initial death certificate signed by the county's medical examiner, Vanessa M. King Ball, Smith's immediate cause of death was drowning, and multiple blunt force trauma from a single-vehicle car crash. Ball ruled Smith's death was accidental, and that he was not wearing a seat belt when the crash occurred.

In an amended death certificate, Ball listed alcohol intoxication as a significant condition that contributed to, but did not cause, Smith's death.

In their three-count lawsuit, the Smiths maintain that Kurtis "had a legal duty to operate his motor vehicle in a safe manner" which he breached when be began tailing Richard. Also, the Smiths say William is also partly to blame for Richard's death since he "negligently entrust[ed] the Vehicle to Kurtis A. Barnett, which allowed him to operate it in a incompetent and inexperienced manner."

As a result of the Barnett's negligence the Smiths allege they have been deprived of Richard's "society, companionship, comfort, guidance, kindly office, advice, services, protection, assistance and care." This has caused them to suffer not only "mental anguish, sorrow, solace, and pain and suffering," but also "future substantial economic and monetary loss."

They are seeking unspecified damages.

The case has been assigned to Judge Thomas C. Evans III.

Jackson Circuit Court case number 09-C-53

More News