Originally created 08/27/99

Defense says father shares blame



AIKEN -- The man suing the state Department of Social Services for the death of his child was portrayed Thursday as a father who rarely visited his daughter and endangered her life through his own decisions.

In his lawsuit, Troy Williams blames DSS for not protecting his child, saying its non-action led to 4-year-old Brittany Inez Tindal's death in a 1996 drunken-driving accident. He claims the agency didn't adequately investigate three reports of drinking problems and child neglect by Brittany's grandmother, Linda Tindal, the driver of the car.

The defense is countering that Mr. Williams knew of the woman's drinking episodes and was equally responsible for protecting his daughter from harm.

Mr. Williams underwent a grueling cross-examination Thursday by the defense, who brought out evidence that after his daughter's birth, Mr. Williams did not always look after the girl's safety.

The father acknowledged that he didn't pay any prenatal bills or financially assist his child in the first 10 months after her birth. It took a court order and a paternity test to force him to pay child support to Ms. Tindal, who had custody of the girl.

Closing arguments are set for this morning, and the jury should get the case by lunchtime, Circuit Judge Costa Pleicones said.

Brittany and three other children died instantly when Ms. Tindal veered across the center line in her 1997 Pontiac on Seveirn Road and struck a school bus. Also killed were Ms. Tindal, 41; two of Ms. Tindal's daughters, Nikki Tindal, 10, and Christine Tindal, 8; and her grandson, Justine "Bubba" Tindal, 3.

A toxicology report showed Ms. Tindal's blood alcohol level was .31, three times the legal limit.

In the months before the fatal collision, Brittany lived with Ms. Tindal at the home of S.W. Williams, the plaintiff's father and a convicted felon known for selling cocaine and moonshine out of his home.

"Your father had a history of violence, didn't he?" defense attorney Patrick Frawley said.

"Yes, sir," Mr. Williams said.

"He fired a shotgun at a guy after a card game, didn't he?"

"Yes, sir."

The defense continued its attack with testimony from Tina Mauldin, Brittany's mother, who said she didn't agree with Mr. Williams' lawsuit against DSS. The mother said she despised Mr. Williams, describing him as a thoughtless man who wouldn't even sign Brittany's birth certificate.

"He never claimed her. He never came out to see her except a few times," Ms. Mauldin said.

During his testimony in day four of the civil trial, Mr. Williams admitted that he was cheating on his wife when he began his relationship with Ms. Mauldin in 1992. He was 22 and she was a 15-year-old ninth-grader.

Ms. Mauldin gave custody of Brittany to her mother shortly after the child was born because Ms. Tindal had the resources to better care for her. She defended her mother as someone who "always did a good job" with the children.

Ms. Tindal may have drank from time to time, but never to the point she couldn't care for the children, Ms. Mauldin said. And the fatal crash was simply an accident, she said.

"It was something that wasn't supposed to happen. It was a freak accident," she said.

In other testimony, DSS employee Brenda Mims testified that Mr. Williams came into the office on Sept. 30, 1996, but was directed to an employee dealing with economic services, or food stamps.

Mr. Williams claims he went to the office to report child neglect and was pointed to the wrong person. He said he expressed his concerns but was turned away when he didn't have an address for the Tindal family.

Ms. Mims, an administrative specialist, said she didn't remember seeing Mr. Williams, but testified that anyone expressing concerns about child neglect or abuse would have been pointed to another person who would have investigated the claims.

Greg Rickabaugh covers courts for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.