By DAVID HOLDENTimes Staff Writer [email protected]
A federal jury awarded $3.1 million in damages Friday to the family of a Madison County woman who was killed in a collision with a speeding ambulance from Tennessee in 2005. A felony charge of manslaughter is still pending in Madison County Circuit Court against the ambulance driver, Charles Christopher Eakes of Tennessee.
Dianna Christine Bowden, 18, of Meridianville died in a two-vehicle crash Oct. 13 involving the ambulance owned by Lincoln County Medical Center Emergency Services. The wreck occurred around 9:45 p.m. at U.S. 231/431 and West Limestone Road, about seven miles north of Huntsville. The ambulance driver, Eakes, 35, of Petersburg, Tenn., and another emergency services employee, Joe Posey, 33, of Fayetteville were taken to the hospital. A patient in the ambulance, Curtis Cook, 58, of Fayetteville, was not injured.
The lawsuit, alleging wrongful death, was filed by the Huntsville law firm Morris, Conchin and King in November 2005 on behalf of Kurt Bowden, Dianna Bowden’s father. The suit was moved to federal court because it involved a vehicle and a business from another state. The lawsuit alleged that Eakes was careless and negligent when the ambulance collided with Dianna Bowden’s vehicle.
Eakes’ attorney, J.R. Brooks of Huntsville, and the ambulance service’s attorney, Dudley Motlow Jr. of Birmingham, did not return telephone calls Monday for comment. They have 30 days to file an appeal. The trial started April 23 before U.S. District Judge Lynwood Smith. The jury deliberated nearly five hours Thursday and Friday before returning the verdict.
According to testimony, the ambulance was transporting Cook to Huntsville Hospital from Fayetteville on a non-emergency basis. The lawsuit alleged that Eakes was careless and negligent when the ambulance collided with Dianna Bowden’s vehicle.
After the crash, Alabama state troopers estimated the ambulance was traveling 81 mph in the 60 mph speed zone when it ran a signal light at the intersection and T-boned Bowden’s 1996 Dodge Neon, said Joe King, the Bowden family’s attorney. The 10,000-pound ambulance pushed the 3,000-pound Dodge Neon 217 feet before both vehicles came to a halt, King said.
During his testimony, Eakes said he didn’t know he was violating his employer’s rules when his vehicle collided with Bowden’s, King said. The company’s rules state that he was not to exceed the speed limit when transporting a patient on a non-emergency basis, he said. “The rule is on a non-emergency run, that is where the patient is stable and non-critical, the driver is supposed to abide by the speed limit, and not run red lights,” he said. “He is supposed to abide by what you and I would do on the road,” King said. “He didn’t know that was the rule.” On emergency runs, the ambulance drivers are to exceed the speed limit by no more than 10 mph, King said.
Eakes showed no remorse, and testified that his driving was acceptable under the circumstances and safe, King said. Before Eakes took the stand, Richard Wright, a company executive, confirmed in his testimony the company’s rule, King said. But Wright said Eakes’ driving was acceptable when Eakes collided with Dianna Bowden, King said.
King said the jury’s verdict of $3.1 million in favor of the Bowden family is not a reason to celebrate. “At the end of the day, Dianna is still dead,” he said. “But the verdict did represent justice. And hopefully it will prevent other drivers and employers from coming into Alabama not knowing the rules about safety and speed.”
A Madison County grand jury indicted Eakes in September on a felony charge of manslaughter in Dianna Bowden’s death. The indictment charges that Eakes recklessly caused Bowden’s death by driving in excess of the speed limit when he ran a red light and struck Bowden’s vehicle.
Eakes’ trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 21 before Circuit Judge Karen Hall. He has pleaded not guilty and waived his right to an arraignment hearing. If convicted, Eakes could face a prison term of up to 20 years. He remains free on a $15,000 bail bond.
2007 The Huntsville Times. All rights reserved.