A recently filed wrongful-death lawsuit contends the Columbia County Sheriff's Office is culpable for a 2006 wreck that killed two adults and an unborn child.
The lawsuit says that a deputy disregarded department pursuit policy by chasing two shoplifting suspects on Washington Road to the intersection at Bobby Jones Expressway, where they crashed into a Chrysler Cirrus driven by Lonnie D. Turner.
Turner, 37, his mother, Margaret Patricia Branton, 63, and Turner's unborn child were killed June 4, 2006, when Tiara Maria Smith drove her Ford Explorer through a red light at the intersection and struck the Cirrus, according to a police report.
Smith and Nebula McNeely were fleeing an Evans Marshall's store from which they were attempting to steal, according to court records.
Atlanta attorney Richard W. Hendrix filed the suit in the Columbia County Clerk of Court's office Feb. 5 on behalf of Branton's husband, John J. Branton.
Hendrix would not discuss details of the case.
The suit alleges that the deputy, in accordance to the sheriff's office pursuit policy, should have terminated the chase "given the clear and obvious dangers attendant to the high speed pursuit on the congested and busy roadway."
Sheriff's office reports of the wreck indicated that no deputies were pursuing Smith's vehicle.
Sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris said he would not comment on details of the case because of the pending litigation. He said the pursuit policy, along with other sheriff's office policies, were revised last year.
John Branton had filed a wrongful-death suit against Smith and McNeely. That case was dismissed last October, according to court records.
Smith was sentenced to life in prison plus 10 years after pleading guilty in September to two counts of murder, feticide, two counts of serious injury by vehicle and fleeing and attempting to elude police. A felony shoplifting charge, two counts of cruelty to children and six traffic charges were dropped as part of her plea agreement.
McNeely was indicted on the same charges, excluding the traffic charges, and is awaiting trial.
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