A Washington County judge awarded $1.4 million on Monday to the family of an Athens teen who was stabbed and killed in a fight that broke out at a June 2010 graduation party near Belpre.
Representing the family of Lamarr Wilder, the 19-year-old killed at the party, Dublin, Ohio attorney Jim Banks said it remains to be seen what might actually be collected.
"We'll just have to see what types of assets there are," he said. "There is still a lot to consider."
BRAD BAUER The Marietta Times
Members of Lamarr Wilder’s family celebrate a judge’s decision Monday to award $1.4 million in damages for the wrongful death of the Athens teen. Wilder was killed in a June 2010 fight that broke out at a party near Belpre.
That includes a ruling by Washington County Common Pleas Judge Susan Boyer to dismiss two people from the wrongful death suit. Boyer said the couple who owned the home where the party was hosted should not be considered liable for any damages.
Following the hearing, Wilder's parents, April Haley, of Nitro, W.Va., and Dino Wilder, of Athens, indicated plans to appeal that ruling. The suit had named as defendants Cameron Lucas, the now 18-year-old who stabbed Wilder, and his legal guardians, who are his grandparents. The suit also sought damages from the Hockingport couple who hosted the party, James "Scott" and Shenandoah Walraven, and the homeowners, Todd and Joanna Knapp, of Belpre.
Boyer ruled the Knapps should not be found liable for any of the damages, noting the couple were not paid for the use of their home and they were not present for the party or fight. A trial was set for Monday to consider the Knapps role in the death of the teen.
Shenandoah Walraven, 37, of Hockingport, is set to stand trial Thursday in Marietta Municipal Court for failing to report to the Washington County Jail in September to serve her six-month sentence on charges of furnishing alcohol to minors at a June 2010 party where a teen was killed.
Walraven faces up to an additional six-months in jail if convicted.
"I think we have to appeal," Haley said. "So far, there really has been no justice for my son. My son had a good life ahead of him. No one wants to take responsibility."
Banks said Boyer's decision leaves Lucas, his guardians, and the Walravens responsible for the damages.
Lucas has always maintained he acted in self-defense. At the end of a one-day trial in February 2011, Washington County Juvenile Judge Timothy Williams found Lucas guilty of a misdemeanor manslaughter charge, expressing concerns the teen introduced a knife into a fistfight. He also questioned why the teen didn't attempt to defend himself by any other means, noting the boy was as big, if not bigger, than Wilder.
However, in December a three-judge panel of Ohio's Fourth District Court of Appeals ruled the situation was "more serious" than Williams acknowledged and reversed the decision.
"I don't know how they could do that," Dino Wilder said. "This wasn't self-defense. He had a knife that he brought with him and used. Why bring a knife to a party?"
As for the couple that hosted the party, James and Shenandoah Walraven were each sentenced last March to serve six-month terms in the Washington County Jail after pleading guilty, as part of a plea agreement, to one misdemeanor count of furnishing alcohol to underage persons. In addition to furnishing the alcohol, the couple was accused of instigating the fatal fight.
Also as a part of the agreement, the couple were granted the ability to serve the sentence one after another so they could continue to care for their underage children. According to Washington County sheriff's officials, James Walraven served his term but Shenandoah Walraven failed to report on Sept. 16 to serve her term. She was arrested Oct. 24 in Johnson City, Tenn., and faces a trial Thursday in Marietta Municipal Court for failing to appear. If convicted, she could face up to six additional months in jail.
Court officials said the Walravens were not represented by an attorney and that they did not respond to the wrongful death suit. The same was said of Lucas and his family. It meant the court was required to issue a default judgment against them and on Monday the judge heard from Wilder's family members who testified about the teen's plans.
Part of those statements were used to determine the lost earnings and damages for the suit.
Haley said her son had planned to attend Ohio University and study engineering. She said he was a bright student with a bright future.
"I can't say I miss one thing about him more than any other," she said. "I just miss him and everything about him."
Dino Wilder did not testify before the court but said the death of Lamarr has affected him and his surviving children, who are 17 and 9.
"I raised Lamarr from the time he was a toddler until he was 19," he said. "He was my world. He was my partner. I'm lost without him and this loss has really affected his brother and sister, too."
Lamarr's brother, Laikwan Wilder, 17, declined to comment. When the judge's ruling came, the teen turned and shared smiles and hugs with his parents and other family members who were present.
John Triplett, who represents the Knapps, said his clients were properly released from the suit.
"This is just a sad situation and it was unfortunate my clients were ever named in the suit," Triplett said, declining to comment further.