City is fighting lawsuit about woman's death

The city of Augusta is battling a wrongful-death lawsuit in Georgia appellate courts this month.

The city's attorney intends to ask the Georgia Supreme Court to hear its appeal after lower courts refused to throw out a lawsuit filed against the sheriff in Richmond County Superior Court.

The Georgia Court of Appeals ruled recently that Judge Sheryl B. Jolly was correct to deny the sheriff sovereign immunity in the case.

Rosa Rita Lovett filed suit against Sheriff Ronnie Strength alleging his department is responsible for the March 1, 2008, death of her sister.

Laura Felder -- a single mother -- was killed when a young man fleeing a sheriff deputy crashed into the vehicle she was in.

Jolly ruled last October that Strength wasn't entitled to sovereign immunity -- the legal provision that protects nearly all acts of government employees. The ruling means a jury should decide whether the deputy acted with reckless disregard for proper law enforcement procedures.

Deputy Anthony Gregory pulled Jamie Ray Clark over on Broad Street the night of March 1, 2008, for running a stop sign. Gregory was preparing traffic citations when Clark took off in his Chevrolet Blazer. Gregory was holding Clark's license.

The chase covered more than four miles at speeds of at least 90 mph as the officer observed Clark pass other vehicles and run traffic signals before colliding with the vehicle driven by Felder's boyfriend.

Before the crash, Gregory radioed his supervisor, who ordered Gregory to stop the pursuit immediately. After the crash, Gregory said he didn't hear that order, according to court documents.

The supervisor and another officer testified in sworn statements that Gregory could have missed the order if the radio channel was busy or he was in an area with poor radio reception.

The sheriff's office has a policy that requires officers to weigh factors in deciding whether to engage in a pursuit. Factors to consider include the seriousness of the offense and the danger to the officer and to others during a pursuit.

The policy also advises officers to consider abandoning a pursuit if it reaches a populated area where an unreasonable danger to the public is created, or if the suspect can be identified for arrest later.

The city argued on appeal that there is no evidence that Clark wouldn't have caused the fatal crash if the deputy hadn't been in pursuit.

That argument, the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled, should have been raised first with the trial court. The appellate court ordered the case returned to Richmond County for a ruling on that issue.

The city filed notice Monday that it will ask the Georgia Supreme Court permission for another appeal in the state's highest court.

Deaths blamed on city worker

The Georgia Court of Appeals has another wrongful-death case against the city to decide.

An opinion could be reached within a few months in the joined civil lawsuits filed by the parents of Ryan Holt and Michelle Borror.

The couple died in a fire Aug. 22, 2006. The families of Holt and Borror say that the city's chief electrical inspector, Lewis Vann, failed to do a routine reconnection inspection to check for safety violations but still gave Georgia Power the authority to restore electricity to a 37-year-old trailer Aug. 1, 2006.

The city, which has acknowledged that Vann didn't go inside the home, says he wasn't required to do so, and the cause of the fire hasn't been determined.

According to an attorney for the victims' families, someone used plastic tape to connect a kitchen light instead of a hardened, plastic "wiring nut," and the error triggered the fire.

-- From staff reports

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