Motorist struck by stolen fire truck sues Beaufort, Port Royal

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Motorist struck by stolen fire truck sues Beaufort, Port Royal

By PATRICK DONOHUE
pdonohue@beaufortgazette.com
Published Saturday, May 26, 2012   |  639 Words  |  

A Beaufort resident injured in a crash in February with a stolen Port Royal firetruck is suing the city and the town of Port Royal, alleging firefighters acted improperly when they left the truck running and unattended while responding to a medical call.

An attorney for Beaufort, however, says responsibility for the wreck ultimately lies with officials at Naval Hospital Beaufort for allowing Kalvin Hunt, a Marine accused of stealing the truck, to flee from the facility.

Jonas Armstrong of Beaufort filed a lawsuit in March against Beaufort, Port Royal, the Beaufort fire department and Hunt. Armstrong's leg was badly injured and his 1998 Dodge SUV was totaled when it was hit Feb. 24 by the firetruck as Hunt made an illegal U-turn on Ribaut Road, the filing said.

Hunt struck six vehicles and killed a pedestrian after stealing the truck from firefighters working at Laurel Bay apartments, according to authorities.

Armstrong's attorney, Paul Infinger of Beaufort, said Hunt was only able to steal the truck because firefighters left it running and unlocked -- they couldn't "prevent unauthorized persons from getting onto or in the truck and driving it at their free will upon the public streets of Beaufort."

In response, Marshall Waldron, the Beaufort's attorney, filed last month to dismiss the lawsuit, saying the firefighters acted properly by leaving the truck running.

Waldron also blamed Naval Hospital Beaufort for leaving Hunt unsupervised and allowing him to leave, despite telling a counselor he wanted to hurt himself and others earlier that day.

Upon hearing that Hunt wanted to hurt himself, the counselor took Hunt to the Naval Hospital for additional treatment. Staff and physicians opted to admit him but failed to immediately process the active-duty Marine, according to the filing.

"(T)he physicians and staff at (Naval Hospital Beaufort,) who knew or should have known that Hunt wanted to inflict injury upon himself and/or others, left him without proper supervision and lost track of him," Waldron wrote.

Hunt ran from the hospital, stripped off some of his clothes and was spotted by base security running from the hospital wearing only blue boxer shorts and a yellow button-up jersey. However, officers failed to stop him, according to the response.

Hunt sprinted across Ribaut Road, removed the rest of his clothes and stole the firetruck, according to Waldron.

A spokeswoman for Naval Hospital Beaufort said base officials were unaware of Waldron's allegations and declined further comment.

Hunt was charged with murder in connection with the death of the pedestrian and 10 other offenses related to the collisions and the theft of the firetruck.

Hunt, who is appealing a bad-conduct discharge from the Marine Corps, was transferred last month from the Beaufort County Detention Center to a psychiatric hospital in Columbia, his attorney, Corey Fleming, said during a hearing in March.

Fleming filed a one-page response to Armstrong's lawsuit, denying all of his allegations, according to court records.

A judge has yet to rule on Waldron's motion to dismiss.

Armstrong is seeking actual and punitive damages, according to the lawsuit.

Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/ProtectServeBft.

Related content:


Suspect in fatal fire truck theft charged by grand jury, April 25, 2012

Judge bars release of video from stolen Port Royal firetruck until trial begins, March 15, 2012

Man accused of joyride in stolen Port Royal firetruck hit with murder charge, Feb. 28, 2012