Reckless wrecker: Lethal driver fined $100 in accident
Despite court-stunning testimony from a defense witness, a judge found Lethal Wrecker driver Floyd Dean guilty of reckless driving for his role in a traffic accident that nearly killed a local teacher and baseball coach. While at the conclusion of the September 18 trial Albemarle District Court Judge William Barkley levied only a $100 fine against Dean for the driving infraction, the verdict could have far greater financial implications.
Accident victim Peter Weatherly has filed a $20 million civil suit against Lethal, Dean, and Lethal's owner, George Morris. Weatherly was critically injured in the accident at the intersection of Routes 250 and 22 near Keswick.
Commonwealth's Attorney Cynthia Murray pointed out that four prosecution witnesses testified at hearings in June and July about Dean's allegedly erratic driving in the minutes before the accident, with one witness recalling Dean weaving and then crossing entirely into the lane of oncoming traffic. Another witness reported seeing Dean's head slumped over the steering wheel in the moments before the January 27 accident.
All those witnesses reported seeing west-bound Dean's tow truck collide with the back of an east-bound dump truck before hitting Weatherly head-on. Monday's trial was designed to give the defense one last chance to produce a competing view.
As detailed in the Hook's August 31 cover story, "Lethal Wreckage," Weatherly's leg and pelvis were shattered, and after he was rushed to UVA hospital, doctors discovered his aorta had ruptured. Although Weatherly says he flatlined in the ER, the trauma team was able to repair the aorta and restart his heart.
Since then, Weatherly has undergone five surgeries and racked up medical expenses that, he says, exceed $500,000. A Little League baseball coach and teacher at the Little Keswick School before the accident, the wheelchair-bound Weatherly can now take several steps with assistance– but it's not enough to get him back to work.
A truck driver named Stewart Abel was key to the dispute. He had been "driving along doing fine," prosecutor Murray said, when Dean entered his lane and hit the rear of his truck before slamming into Weatherly's 2001 Honda, which was stopped in the east-bound turn lane from Route 250 to Route 22.
Despite the accounts by Abel and the other eyewitnesses, Dean testified at an earlier hearing that Abel had actually caused the accident by entering his lane. A mirror from Abel's truck had hit him in the head, Dean testified, and "knocked me out."
To bolster his claim, Dean's Richmond-based attorney, William Tiller, summoned Lora and Thomas Hawley, a husband and wife who said their van had been two vehicles behind Dean on the morning of the accident.
The Hawleys had failed to appear at two earlier hearings, and at Monday's hearing only Lora appeared, now using the surname Lamb.
"I heard my husband say, 'Oh my God,'" testified Lamb, who claimed she was a passenger in the van driven by her husband that morning. Upon hearing his exclamation, Lamb testified, she looked up and saw Abel's dump truck veer into the Lethal Wrecker's path.
Lamb testified that although she and her husband saw the accident, they neither stopped to offer assistance nor called 911. "I lost my brother to a car accident," she explained. "I'm not good at stuff like that."
Despite hearing of Dean's testimony that a mirror had rendered him unconscious, Lamb contended that Dean must have awakened to make note of the couple's phone number printed on the side of their passing van.
Murray wasn't buying it. Unlike any other witness, Murray pointed out, Lamb has several prior convictions, including a felony, for "various crimes involving lying, cheating, and stealing."
When asked if she'd been convicted of larceny, Lamb replied, "Not yet," referring to a pending case. Murray pointed out that Dean knew Lamb's husband before the accident, having been a "classmate" at a methadone clinic.
In his closing argument, Tiller insisted that Lamb's unique account was the truth. "My colleague got it wrong," said the lawyer, nodding toward Murray. "The officers got it wrong."
Tiller pointed out certain elements of the accident scene that were never fully explained. Officers, he said, did not measure the height of the dump truck and did not photograph it before it was moved. And prosecution witnesses disagreed about its color.
Barkley didn't seem to mind. This case, he said, "begins and ends with the testimony of Stewart Abel."
After the verdict, Murray placed a hand on Weatherly's shoulder and bent to whisper, "I'm so sorry this happened to you" to the wheelchair-bound man.
Also in the courtroom was Lethal owner George Morris, who departed with Dean and Tiller. All three declined comment about the verdict, the impending civil case, and Lethal's once-planned name change to After Five Towing.
Although announced in the Hook's cover story, the new moniker now appears on hold, as a call to Lethal finds on Tuesday, September 19. "We'll always be Lethal," says a receptionist.
Weatherly and his attorney, Greg Webb, decline to speculate on the impact Dean's traffic conviction could have on the civil suit. "The finding," says Webb, "has little bearing on the [civil] case. I think we'll just have to sort it out."
That suit goes to trial in Albemarle Circuit Court on March 12.
Peter Weatherly was critically injured in a January accident with a Lethal Wrecker tow truck.PHOTO BY WILLIAM WALKER
Floyd Dean arrives September 18 at Albemarle District Court where he was convicted of reckless driving.PHOTO BY WILLIAM WALKER