Crime

Will a family ever see $500,000 awarded to them after Tchoutacabouffa River crash?

The state Supreme Court will review a lower court’s decision to toss out almost $500,000 in damages awarded to the family of a man killed in a boat crash in 2009.

Chris Webb, 24, of D’Iberville was killed when a boat driven by Donald Bernius, 26, of D’Iberville hit Webb’s boat on the Tchoutacabouffa River. Bernius was fleeing a stop by state Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks officers when the crash occurred.

Webb’s 16-year-old brother Shane was seriously insured. Chris Webb’s 4-year-old grandson received moderate injuries.

Until the decision was reversed by the appeals court, the family originally was awarded a total of $1.4 million but that was reduced to conform with the Mississippi Tort Claims Act to $33,333 for Webb’s widow and $466,666 for the stepson’s guardianship.

Bernius pleaded guilty to boating under the influence and causing death and injury. He’s serving a 25-year prison sentence.

The DWFP officers had stopped Bernius for speeding, then ordered him to drive to a safer part of the river. Bernius suddenly turned his boat around and fled, narrowly missing one boat before crashing into Webb’s boat, according to court documents.

The appeals court found Harrison County Circuit Court Judge Lisa Dodson erred by finding the officers showed a reckless disregard for safety when they allowed Bernius to drive off from the original stop.

“The evidence failed to show that the officers’ conduct evinced not only some appreciation of the unreasonable risk involved, but also a deliberate disregard of that risk and the high probability of harm involved,” the appeals judges wrote in their decision. “As a result, we find the circuit court’s judgment lacks credible and substantial evidentiary support.”

Three of the court’s 10 judges dissented in that ruling.

Paul Hampton: 228-284-7296, @JPaulHampton

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