Military hospital and others sued following 2012 accident

07/25/2013 9:24 PM

07/25/2013 9:43 PM

A Beaufort man injured in a crash with a firetruck allegedly stolen by a Marine who escaped Naval Hospital Beaufort is suing the hospital and others for negligence.

Jonas Armstrong filed a lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court against the hospital, the S.C. Division of Veterans Affairs, CasePro and the federal government, alleging they should have prevented Kalvin Hunt, who has since been dishonorably discharged, from escaping the hospital and stealing a Port Royal firetruck in 2012.

Hunt ran from the hospital, hopped in a firetruck parked nearby during a call at an apartment complex, drove down Ribaut Road, crashed into a car driven by Jonas, then hit and killed a pedestrian, police have said.

The suit says that a Veterans Affairs officer brought Hunt from Sumter to Naval Hospital Beaufort on Feb. 24, 2012, after Hunt’s mother called and said he was acting erratically. The VA officer apparently knew Hunt had a history of threatening to harm himself or others, and on that day, he did the same, the suit alleges.

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

Once outside, Hunt ran. Security officers saw Hunt wearing only blue boxer shorts and a yellow, buttoned-up jersey. By allowing Hunt to step out of the hospital without supervision, the suit alleges, Veterans Affairs and CasePro were negligent.

Hunt eventually took off the boxer shorts and took the firetruck, which had been left running during a medical call at the Laurel Hill apartments, south of the hospital on Ribaut Road, authorities have said.

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

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

Hunt awaits trial for murder and 10 other offenses stemming from the incident. He is being evaluated by the S.C. Department of Mental Health to determine whether he is mentally fit to stand trial, according to Daniel Brownstein, 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office spokesman.

Hunt was transferred to a psychiatric hospital in Columbia a few months after the incident, where he remains, Brownstein said.

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.

A suit he 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 Naval 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.

An attempt Thursday to reach a Naval Hospital Beaufort official for comment was unsuccessful. The hospital has not yet filed a response to either lawsuit.

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