MARTINSBURG – The State Police is accused of mishandling bodily remains in a wrongful death lawsuit filed Aug. 15 by the family of a Berkeley County man who was missing for several months before being found dead in November.
Victoria Hughes, the widow of Walter Hughes and the administratrix of his estate, filed a lawsuit Aug. 15 in Berkeley County Circuit Court against the State Police, several troopers and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Other plaintiffs include three of his daughters.
The lawsuit was filed by Martinsburg attorney Harry P. Waddell and seeks compensatory and punitive damages. It says two troopers should have known of the dangerous situation reported to them by two of Hughes’ daughters.
“The West Virginia State Police, specifically including Trooper Flanigan and Trooper Ware, in responding to Plaintiffs’ call for assistance, assumed an affirmative duty to exercise reasonable care to protect Walter Hughes from harming himself or others,” the complaint says.
“Defendants breached their duty of care by failing to take Walter Hughes into custody for his own protection and the protection of others.
“Defendants’ negligence and recklessness in failing to take appropriate action to protect Walter Hughes from himself or others was a direct proximate cause of his death.”
On April 7, 2012, Victoria Hughes discovered her husband was having an affair, prompting her to move into a hotel in Winchester, Va., five days later, the complaint says.
On April 13, 2012, she and daughters Kristal Hughes and Kristina Arntz traveled to the marital residence to retrieve some clothing, it says. While there, Walter Hughes pulled out a gun and pointed it at his chest, it says.
Hughes threatened to shoot himself and claimed he would be dead by midnight, the complaint says. The two daughters then informed the State Police what had happened, it says.
Troopers J.B. Flanigan and J.A. Ware allegedly reported to Kristal Hughes’ boyfriend that Walter Hughes seemed fine and suggested one of his daughters take him out to dinner to allow them time to search his house for the gun.
The boyfriend replied that Walter Hughes kept the gun in his pocket, and the troopers responded that there was nothing else they could do, the complaint says.
That night, Arntz asked the State Police to perform a welcare check on Walter Hughes, and two troopers responded, the complaint says. The troopers found a suicide note, a cashier’s check worth $82,000, jewelry, a wallet and a cell phone inside the house, it says.
Walter Hughes remained missing until Nov. 29, when his remains were found in a shell pit not far from his house, the complaint says.
On Nov. 30, the family visited the site where Hughes’ remains were found to leave flowers.
“When the family arrived at the shell pit, they were shocked and horrified to discover Walter Hughes’ human remains, including an entire arm bone, a pelvic bone, spine vertebra, rib bones, finger bones and part of their father’s jaw bone as well as is bottom dentures still remained at the site,” the complaint says.
Berkeley County Medical Examiner Curtis Keller told the family he was afraid something might have been left at the site, the complaint says.
On Dec. 3, another of Walter Hughes’ daughters, Kristen Hite, visited the site where his remains were found after traveling from Germany. She allegedly discovered one of her father’s femurs still there.
The complaint also alleges the medical examiner’s office in Charleston was never told by State Police that a shell casing had been found six to eight feet from where Hughes’ remains were found.
The plaintiffs suffered severe mental anguish as a result of the mishandling of Walter Hughes’ remains, the complaint alleges.
From the West Virginia Record: Reach John O’Brien at firstname.lastname@example.org.