Coroner sued for negligence in Trask crash investigation

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Coroner sued for negligence in Trask crash investigation

By LORI YOUNT lyount@beaufortgazette.com 843-986-5531
Published Friday, June 29, 2007 in The Beaufort Gazette  |  570 Words  |  local_news

The father of a Citadel cadet who died in a fiery accident is suing Beaufort County Coroner Curt Copeland and the county, claiming negligence in the death investigation and incompetence by the Coroner's Office.
Leith Paul Trask III died early Nov. 22, 2005, after he lost control of the vehicle he was driving on U.S. 21 on Hunting Island, veered off the road and crashed into trees, which caused the SUV to burst into flames, according to S.C. Highway Patrol records at the time.
The lawsuit, which was filed in April by L. Paul Trask Jr., who owns Beaufort's two movie theaters, claims the 20-year-old took his father's SUV, stopped shortly before midnight the night before at the Xpress Lane convenience store on Boundary Street where he bought two beers before driving 22 miles to Fripp Island.
He was turned away at the Fripp Island gate because he didn't have a pass, and drove 4 miles west before crashing at about 1 a.m.
The lawsuit -- one of three -- claims authorities, including the coroner, stopped the investigation once it was determined a "Trask" had died and went to the house to inform the family.
The suit claims an autopsy wasn't performed, thoughCopeland was required by state law to perform one for positive identification of the body that was burned beyond visual recognition and to take blood samples for toxicology exams to determine whether the driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Marshall Waldron Jr., a Bluffton-based attorney representing the county and its offices, has filed a motion for dismissal.
In addition, Trask's suit states Copeland, who offered as a funeral home owner to take over the arrangements and who owns a cremation service, coaxed the parents into signing a permission form for cremation the day after their son's death and lied about the time they signed it.
Copeland's failure to take blood samples and that he illegally destroyed his son's remains has hurt Trask's wrongful death suit against the Xpress Lane convenience store for its negligence in selling his underage son alcohol, according to the claim. The wrongful death suit, which was filed in May 2006, said Trask had already drank six to 12 beers at his parents' home and was probably visibly intoxicated at the store. Xpress Lane is asking for a summary judgment in the case because there's no physical evidence he was intoxicated at the time of the accident, the company claims. Trask is asking for damages.In the April suit against Copeland, which asks for actual and punitive damages, Trask further claims the coroner and the people who act as "deputy" coroners aren't properly certified and haven't completed state-mandated training.
In another suit filed in April, Trask claims Beaufort County agencies and the S.C. Department of Public Safety have denied him public information. The lawsuit ultimately asks for all the records requested be released to Trask in their entirety, including investigation notes, e-mails and audio recordings of emergency responders the night of the crash, and the compensation of legal fees and what Trask claims are overcharges made by the agencies when partially complying with Trask's FOIA requests.
Charleston-based attorney Thomas Tisdale of Nexsen Pruet is representing Trask, and said he couldn't comment on cases under litigation.
Waldron has also filed a motion for dismissal in the FOIA case, claiming Trask hasn't made a case.