Cops and Courts, Featured, News

Verdict returned in Monongalia County civil suit for DUI-related death

MORGANTOWN — A jury decided the man who struck and killed a 20-year-old in 2016 owes her family about $7.6 million dollars.
The jury awarded the family of Carli Sears the money after a civil suit filed against Alexander Hambrick, 22, who was driving drunk Jan. 17, 2016, when he struck Sears.
Sears, a Charleston native, was visiting in Morgantown when she was killed while walking to a friend’s apartment from downtown.
The jury deliberated for about 90 minutes before returning its decision. The jury asked if there was an upper limit to the amount of money it could give to compensate the Sears family for sorrow and mental anguish over the loss.They were told as long as the number was justifiable and reasonable based on the evidence heard, they were the sole deciders and there was no limit.

Jurors decided on $3 million. Another $2.4 million  was awarded for wages Sears would have likely earned over her life and $500,000 for her pain and suffering from the time of the accident until her death about six hours later and lost household services — basic household chores that if we don’t do someone needs to be paid to do.

Medical and funeral damages were awarded, but the jury did not have to decide on those as Judge Phillip Gaujot granted a motion of directed verdict on Wednesday, which mandated Hambrick’s responsibility for those costs, $42,890,89 in total.

Punitive damages in the amount of $1,250,000 were awarded. Punitive damages are designed to punish and prevent future wrong-doing of a similar nature, Tom Peyton, representing the Sears family, said.

“There are no winners in this case. This is a case that I will never forget. As an attorney, I just hope I did an honorable job representing the Sears family in this tragic situation,” Peyton said. “The civil justice system has served its purpose and perhaps the Sears will now have some modicum of closure.”

The civil suit was filed by Brent Sears, Carli’s father, in Monongalia County Circuit Court.

During Peyton’s closing statement Thursday, he walked the jury through the previous two days of testimony.

Jurors heard from Clayton Rinehart and Gregory Schaefer, the paramedic who first responded to the scene and the surgeon who tried to save Sears’ life at Ruby Memorial Hospital.

The two medical professionals told jurors about the ways they tried to save Sears and about her injuries.

Peyton said, while pain is subjective, based on her injuries there was no way Sears didn’t feel any. He urged the jury to award damages for her pain and suffering.

Sears had pelvic fractures, bruised lungs and severe brain swelling, which was likely the ultimate cause of her death, Schaefer testified.

Defense attorney Tiffany Durst did not dispute Sears likely felt pain during her closing argument.

Detective Daren Crouse, with Morgantown Police, walked jurors through his investigation, including his interview with Hambrick, in which he lied twice.

Hambrick did not dispute those lies during his testimony, but said he was scared at the time.

Jurors also heard from Clifford Hawley, an economist, who walked the jury through the process of figuring out what Sears would have likely earned during her life.

Carli was attending Ole Miss and working towards a degree in hospitality management at the time of her death.

Durst told jurors during her closing argument that they should remember those were only estimates based on a generic degree.

Sears’ dad, Brent, mom, Julie, and sister, Mackenzie, all testified as well about what a kind, outgoing, hardworking and well-liked person she was.

Peyton said he hoped that testimony gave the jury a sense of who Carli Sears was.

Durst told the jurors her client was not a bad person, but a then 19-year-old kid who made a bad decision with tragic consequences.

Since that fateful night, Hambrick has followed every restriction placed on him, including successfully completing the program at the Anthony Center, a correctional facility for youthful offenders.

Many people given a second chance through the Anthony Center often fail to complete the program because they can’t stay out of trouble, she said.

Hambrick has also not touched alcohol since that night, she said.

She reminded jurors that Hambrick pleaded guilty to both felonies he was charged with and did not try to plead to a lesser offense.

“I was guilty of both the things I was charged with,” Hambrick testified.

He pleaded guilty to DUI with death and fleeing the scene of an accident involving death in December 2016, about a year after he killed Sears.

Hambrick said, to this day, he doesn’t remember striking Sears.

He served 11 months in the Anthony Center, six months on home confinement and is on probation until he’s 28.

Durst asked jurors to consider those punishments when deciding on punitive damages.