CHARLESTON – A Kanawha County man claims his wife was bullied and intimated until she committed suicide by jumping off the New River Gorge Bridge.
Roy Fernatt filed his lawsuit July 29 in Kanawha Circuit Court. Listed as defendants are Marty Blankenship, Lesley Taylor, Crystal Foster, Amanda Tucker (now known as Amanda Holmes), the Fire and Iron Motorcycle Club Inc., Local Chapter 40 of Fire and Iron Motorcycle Club, John Doe and Jane Doe.
In his complaint, filed by Charleston attorney Mike Clifford, Fernatt says his wife Denise Fernatt died Aug. 5, 2017, after jumping from the bridge, which is the longest steel bridge in the western hemisphere and third highest in the United States. It stands 876 feet above the New River.
The lawsuit says Denise Fernatt died of blunt force trauma injuries she suffered from a jump “following a few days of mental and emotional distress caused by the bullying and hazing actions of one or more of the defendants … which included the public posting of suggestive photographs of the decedent at many public locations.”
He claims those actions were carried out to cause embarrassment and humiliation to his late wife “with the specific idea of causing the decedent to commit suicide.” He claims the defendants were aware of her “mental and emotional fragilities and sought to exploit the same by their actions.”
Roy Fernatt claims the individual defendants were active members of the local motorcycle club, and he says the members and officers of the club knew of the bullying and hazing incidents.
He says the photos in question were posted starting July 30, 2017, in public places, “including the local police station, the Cedar Grove Life Center, Shrewsbury Church of God, the new fire station property and numerous other signs, utility poles and bulletin boards.”
The complaint says the photographs were posted “in ways calculated to open to public view private aspects of decedent’s life that decedent had not opened to view, including decedent’s sexual orientation, address and telephone number.”
“The posting of these photographs were intended to harm the plaintiff’s reputation and invade plaintiff’s privacy,” the complaint states. “The posting of these photographs were made with malicious intent on the part of the defendants.”
On Aug. 4, 2017, he says one of the photographs was given to his wife’s supervising employee at the Fayette County Courthouse.
“Upon receipt of the photograph, the supervising employer notified the decedent that it was his intention to terminate her employment of longstanding,” the complaint states. “Decedent was embarrassed and upset. Decedent’s reputation had been ruined and … her private life had been invaded.”
There was a criminal investigation into Denise Fernatt’s death, but no charges were filed.
According to the Charleston Gazette-Mail, the three female defendants were investigated by the Glasgow Police Department, as was Blankenship, who is Glasgow’s fire chief and Taylor’s boyfriend.
Roy Fernatt seeks compensatory damages for funeral expenses and the loss of his wife’s employment benefits as well as mental anguish and the loss of companionship. He also seeks damages for his wife’s physical pain and suffering, mental anguish and monetary losses related to her death. He also seeks pre- and post-judgment interest, court costs, attorney fees and punitive damages.
The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit.
Kanawha Circuit Court case number 19-C-770