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Coach Nelson's children file wrongful death civil suit in wrong-way wreck
Coach Nelson's children file wrongful death civil suit in wrong-way wreck

George Harry Widener
SAINT ROBERT, Mo. (June 17, 2009) — The adult son and daughter of former Waynesville High School baseball coach Don Nelson have filed a wrongful death civil lawsuit in Pulaski County Circuit Court.

The target of the civil lawsuit, George Harry Widener, 64, of Jerome, also faces criminal charges of involuntary manslaughter in connection with a June 4 fatal crash in which St. Robert police say Widener was driving the wrong way in a Chevrolet Avalanche SUV on Old Route 66 and ran head-on into Nelson, who was riding a motorcycle. Nelson, 54, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Key differences between a criminal case and a civil case include that in a civil case, the people bringing the suit pay for their own lawyer rather than relying on the prosecuting attorney, and if the people being sued lose their case, they pay money to the people suing them rather than spending time in jail. The standard of proof is also lower for a civil case.

It’s common practice for the criminal case to be tried first before the civil case goes to trial, so quick action in the civil case isn’t likely for some time.

Widener had already hired John Garrabrandt of the Dan Birdsong law firm in Rolla to represent him in the criminal case. The civil lawsuit brought by the adult children, Kenneth Todd Nelson and Stacie Marie Cruz, was filed by Mark Turley of the Smith-Turley law firm based in St. Robert.

Nelson’s son is a Waynesville resident; his daughter lives in San Clemente, Calif., where her husband is a sergeant.

The civil lawsuit doesn’t ask for a specific dollar amount, but rather demands “recovery of money from (Widener) for such damages as are fair and reasonable and for (the children’s) costs incurred in this civil action.” In addition, the civil lawsuit seeks recovery of the cost for funeral expenses and “the reasonable value of the services, consortium, companionship, comfort, instruction, guidance, counsel, training and support” they would have received if their father had not been killed in the crash.

In addition to driving while intoxicated, specific allegations in the civil lawsuit against Widener include that he was negligent because he “failed to keep a careful lookout,” failed to yield the right-of-way, and was driving on the wrong side of the road.

The civil lawsuit also says that in the crash, Nelson “suffered great physical pain and mental anguish and could have maintained an action for such physical pain and mental anguish had his death not ensued as a direct and proximate result” of Widener’s actions. While most details of the crash have not yet been released and will wait until the upcoming preliminary hearing or the trial on the criminal charges, Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney Deborah Hooper already stated in open court last week that the crash was “a very heinous incident — a man was killed on a motorcycle and he was severed into pieces.”

Widener has been free since last week when Maries County Associate Circuit Judge John Clayton reduced his bond from $250,000 cash-only to $75,000 payable by cash, property or surety through a bail bondsman.

It’s not clear what financial resources Widener may have to pay a civil wrongful death judgment if Nelson’s children win their civil lawsuit.

In the bond reduction hearing before Clayton, Widener’s attorney argued that as a retired railroad employee, “(Widener) is on a fixed income, he is not a man of substantial means” and sought reduction of the original $250,000 cash-only bond because “there is no way he can come up with that amount of money.”

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