In the early morning hours of February 2, 2015, a Thomaston couple, Timothy and Aleksaundra Lamothe, were driving home from a Super Bowl Party. They were headed north on Highway 19 South when their vehicle was struck head-on by a car driven by 19-year-old Willie White of Hampton. White was being pursued by two Thomaston Police officers and struck the Lamothes’ car at the intersection of Birdsong Road and Hwy. 19. The Lamothes were pronounced dead at the scene. White is facing charges of DUI and two counts of first degree vehicular homicide.
At the Thomaston City Council meeting on August 4, City Attorney Joel Bentley notified the council that the city has received an Ante Litem notice from attorney Brian Worstell of Philips, Branch and Hodges Law Firm in Columbus. Worstell is representing the Lamothes’ estates and their parents, and indicated in the notice that they are considering suing the city for $10 million, $5 million for each of the estates.
According to the Ante Litem notice, the Lamothes were killed when, “two members of the Thomaston Police Department, Officers Marcus Denson and Ulysses Clark, were engaged in an unlawful and improper pursuit of another vehicle driven by Mr. Willie White.” According to the notice, the ‘unlawful and improper pursuit“ led to the deaths of the Lamothes.
Bentley recommended the council deny the claim.
“Based on this Ante Litem notice, it is my recommendation that we treat this Ante Litem notice the way we treat others, which is to say that the claim be denied, and the matter be referred to the city’s liability carrier for further action,” Bentley said. “If that is what you choose to do, I will then write Mr. Worstell a letter to that effect.’
Council member Don Greathouse made a motion to deny the claim at this point in time. Council member J. D. Stallings seconded the motion.
During discussion, Mayor Pro Tem Doug Head asked Bentley to explain what an ante litem notice is.
“If an individual wishes to pursue a claim against the City of Thomaston, he or she has to present those claims to with City of Thomaston within six months of the occurrence,” Bentley stated. “ f they fail to present claims within the six months of the occurrence, the claim can’t be presented. His letter is to put the city on notice. It is not to say at this point that they will pursue a claim against the city, however, they are putting us on statutory notice.
“Most attorneys ask the city attorney to send a confirmation back that they properly complied with the ante litem notice. Of course, I refuse to do so. That’s his job. I sent a letter saying that we received the notice and it will be forwarded to the city for action pursuant to the statute.
“Tonight we are bringing that action within 30 days of receiving the ante litem notice, and you will vote to either accept the claim, which by the way, is $5 million for each of the estates and individuals, or deny it and allow the insurance carrier to handle it from this point forward.”
The vote was called for and was 5-0 in favor of denying the claim.
Citizen Police Review Board
During the Public Comment portion of the meeting, resident George Carreker spoke about the proposed Citizen Police Review Board. During a series of public hearings last summer concerning Thomaston Police Officer Phillip Tobin and the tasing of a person in a local convenience store parking lot, Carreker had mentioned that other cities have had success with a Citizen Police Review Board, and he suggested that it might be helpful for Thomaston to have one, too.
At the March 3 city council meeting, City Manager Patrick Comiskey said after meeting with the mayor, Carreker, and Rev. Johnson, they decided to go ahead and investigate the formation of such a board, gather as much information as they could, then report back to the council within 90 days as to what options the council might choose.
At the August 4 meeting, Carreker said he had received and given a lot of input to Comiskey and that it would be up to the city manager at this point to write up the information and get it to the council.
Mayor Hays Arnold said he believes the council is still thinking about the issue, but that since they initially talked about it, the police chief has resigned and they are in the process of looking for a new chief.
“So at this point, I think you would agree that a new chief needs to be an important part of moving forward with that type of action or plan,” Arnold said. “I wouldn’t want to encumber anybody that might have a valid reason to disagree with something that I passed on. I think at this point in time, we just say that it is not dead by any means, but we need to get the chief, whoever that happens to be at the end of the process, to be involved. That’s really all I can say about it at this time.”
Carreker replied that he was at least hoping for an informal adoption by the council.
“You can’t do this right now, but actually initiate it at a later date,” he said. “I know things are going to change up here, and that way you’re not tying up the next chief, but you are putting it in place and say this is going to happen.”
Larry Stanford may be reached at 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @LarryStanford7.