September 28, 2013

Defendants in suit over stolen firetruck crash deny claims, ask for dismissal

The four defendants sued by a man injured in a crash with a stolen Port Royal firetruck are asking that the federal lawsuit be dismissed.

The four defendants sued by a man injured in a crash with a stolen Port Royal firetruck are asking that the federal lawsuit be dismissed.

Jonas Armstrong filed suit July 23 in U.S. District Court against Naval Hospital Beaufort, the S.C. Division of Veterans Affairs, CasePro Inc., and the federal government, alleging they should have prevented Kalvin Hunt, then a Marine, from escaping the hospital and stealing a Port Royal firetruck in 2012.

Hunt, who has since been dishonorably discharged, ran naked from the hospital Feb. 24, 2012, and hopped in a firetruck parked during a call at an apartment complex, drove the truck down Ribaut Road, crashed into a car driven by Armstrong, then hit and killed a pedestrian, police have said.

Armstrong’s leg was badly injured and his Dodge SUV was totaled when it was hit as Hunt made a U-turn on Ribaut Road, according to a separate lawsuit filed in May 2012 by Armstrong in Beaufort County court.

Hunt hit six cars and killed a pedestrian while driving the firetruck, according to police.

Armstrong’s federal suit alleges the four defendants were negligent in allowing Hunt to leave the hospital complex. All four parties deny those claims.

CasePro, the naval hospital’s Texas-based security contractor, responded to Armstrong’s lawsuit Aug. 16. It says Armstrong’s allegations against the company should be dismissed because Armstrong failed “to state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action against CasePro.”

Any injuries Armstrong suffered were a result of the negligence of Armstrong himself or people CasePro had no control over, the response said.

In a cross-claim included in the filing, CasePro alleged the federal government was liable for any possible negligence, because the government was responsible for CasePro employees at the hospital. CasePro employees were under the daily supervision of the federal government, according to the contract CasePro has with Naval Medical Logistics Command, the claim says.

The response denied that Hunt ever told CasePro employees he wanted to hurt himself and others, or that they knew he was a danger.

Armstrong’s lawsuit alleges that Hunt told hospital employees and a VA officer he wanted to hurt himself and others while at the hospital. The suit also says the VA officer knew Hunt had a history of making such threats.

The VA officer and personnel employed by CasePro allowed Hunt to leave after Hunt asked if he could step outside to “get a quick breath of fresh air,” the suit says.

However, a response by the Department of Veterans Affairs filed Aug. 26 denied that the VA officer knew about Hunt’s history of making threats or that he acted negligently while at the hospital.

The department also asked that the suit be dismissed, arguing the department and VA officer are protected under the public-duty law, which says the government owes duties to the public as a whole but not individually.

The federal government, represented by S.C. District Assistant U.S. Attorney Lee Berlinsky, denied Armstrong’s allegations in a court filing Sept. 16. Berlinsky and the U.S. Attorney’s Office also represent the naval hospital, according to court records.

The federal government also claims U.S. law does not allow Armstrong’s request for a trial by jury.

According to court records, Armstrong was uninsured at the time of the crash and owes about $12,000 in medical bills. Armstrong’s federal suit seeks actual damages from all four defendants and punitive damages from CasePro. CasePro has countered that such claims for punitive damages violate its constitutional rights, according to court filings.

A suit Armstrong filed in May 2012 in Beaufort County — against the naval hospital, Hunt, the town of Port Royal and the city of Beaufort — has not yet gone to trial. The suit alleges, among other things, that firefighters acted improperly when they left the truck running and unattended.

The city of Beaufort’s response to that suit said the responsibility for the incident was with the hospital for allowing Hunt to leave, and it requested that the case be dismissed. Hunt’s response to the suit denies all of the allegations.

In March, the case was delayed until May 2014.

Hunt is also awaiting trial for murder and 10 other offenses stemming from the incident.

The estate of Justin Nicholas Miller, 28, of Port Royal, the pedestrian who was killed when the firetruck crashed into him, is also suing CasePro and the U.S. government. The lawsuit, filed Nov. 1, 2012, names estate representative Rebecca Delaney as the plaintiff and claims wrongful death and negligence. The case is pending in the Beaufort County Court of Common Pleas. Both the government and CasePro have filed motions for dismissal.

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