Appealed: Lethal driver seeks redress
Though he was found guilty of reckless driving in August and fined $100 for his role in a January 27 accident that critically injured a local man, Lethal Wrecker driver Floyd Thomas Dean is now appealing the conviction and says he hopes a new judge will see things his way.
"I feel the Commonwealth gave me very unfair justice," says Dean, reached at home by telephone. His new court date is scheduled for January 24 in Albemarle Circuit Court.
In his first trial, Dean's Richmond-based attorney, William Tillman, argued that a dump truck owned by Taylor's Trucking and driven by Stewart Abel had initially hit Dean's wrecker, spraying his face with glass and causing the accident that critically injured local teacher and Little League coach Peter Weatherly.
As detailed in the Hook's August 31 cover story, "Lethal Wreckage," Weatherly's leg and pelvis were shattered and his aorta ruptured. Having racked up medical bills of more than $500,000 and spent nine months undergoing surgeries and rehab, he has sued Dean, Lethal Wrecker, and Lethal's owner for $20 million.
But Weatherly's attorney, Greg Webb, says Dean's reckless driving conviction won't affect his client's case– even if it's reversed on appeal– because the jury in a civil case isn't privy to criminal convictions of defendents. Weatherly's civil case goes to trial March 12-14, 2007 in Albemarle Circuit Court.
Abel has not returned the Hook's calls; however, according to assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Cynthia Murray at the September hearing, Abel denies the first collision ever happened.
Abel said he was "driving along doing fine," Murray reported. And, she pointed out, several other eyewitnesses concurred, saying that it was Dean who was driving erratically in the minutes prior to the accident in which his vehicle collided with the rear of Abel's truck before slamming head-on into Weatherly's car, which was stopped as he waited to turn left from Route 250 West onto Route 22 near Keswick.
Dean's defense relied on two eyewitnesses, Lora and Thomas Hawley. After failing to appear in court for the case on several previous occasions, Lora Hawley, using the name Lora Lamb, testified at Dean's trial. Thomas Hawley did not appear, and Lamb said she did not know where he was.
Lamb testified that she and Thomas had been driving two cars behind Dean's wrecker. Though they neither called 911 nor stopped at the accident, Lamb testified that Dean had sufficiently recovered from the impact to notice and write down their phone number on the side of their van as they passed.
Murray attacked Lamb as a witness, pointing out several convictions for crimes involving lying and cheating. She then suggested that Thomas Hawley knew Dean as a "classmate in a methadone clinic."
Dean denies knowing Hawley and would not comment on any affiliation with a methodone clinic, though he admits of Hawley, "I'd seen him before."
The accident is not the only legal trouble Dean faced this year. In July, he was found guilty in Albemarle District Court of construction fraud for accepting an advance payment of $725 for a painting job from Glenmore resident Arthur Mann and then failing to start the task.
Mann says when he filed his complaint, Dean was "already in the clink." That incarceration resulted from a charge of petit larceny of which Dean was found guilty on July 7 in Charlottesville District Court. In that case, Dean admitted to stealing the drugs percocet and methadone from a Shamrock Road resident.
As Dean awaits his new trial, scheduled for January 24 in Albemarle Circuit Court, he is singing the praises of his employer, Lethal owner George Morris, whose company has frequently been the subject of Hook articles.
Most recently, Lethal made news for overcharging 21 drivers and then failing to repay the court-ordered $1,100. After hinting in court that his client might not have the funds to issue reimbursement, in mid-October, Tillman, also Lethal's attorney, delivered reimbursement checks to the City attorney's office.
Dean says newspaper accounts have inaccurately portrayed Morris, and he comes to the defense of his boss who he says is one of the "best people I've ever known in my life."
He says Morris came to the scene of the Weatherly accident, and decided Dean had not been at fault. "If I'd been wrong," says Dean, "he'd have fired me on the spot."
Dean says he is not driving for Lethal right now because Morris "wants me to take time off and get myself straight, but I still have my job." In the wake of the accident, he explains, he has suffered from depression.
"I'm sorry in my heart that man got hurt," Dean says. "I'd have given my life to keep him from getting hurt."
But as sorry as he feels for Weatherly, he insists the accident "was not my fault."
Weatherly declines comment on Dean's appeal, but says he continues to work hard at healing. He recently began walking with assistance, and hopes his recovery gets him back out on the baseball diamond.
"My goal is to be able to pitch this spring," Weatherly says.
Lethal Wrecker driver Floyd Dean
FILE PHOTO BY WILLIAM WALKER