Fresh off headlining charges that his office knowingly employed a pedophile ex-priest, Juvenile Court Clerk Kenny Norman now finds himself slapped with a wrongful death suit, nearly two years after a fatal highway crash by his home.
Plaintiff Charlie Taylor, the father of a 17-year-old passenger who was killed in the accident, is suing the well-connected Norman for $2 million. The lawsuit claims Norman’s cattle roamed off his rolling 13-acre farm and onto Brick Church Pike, prompting the driver to lose control of his pickup truck. Now in his third term as juvenile court clerk, Norman is the brother of Circuit Court Judge Barbara Haynes and brother in-law of state Sen. Joe Haynes.
”I have no ill feeling toward him,“ says Taylor, who lives in Lenoir City in East Tennessee. ”I just wish he would own up to his responsibility.“
In Taylor’s four-page complaint, he alleges that on the morning of Sunday, April 26, 1998, Troy Brooksher was traveling north on Brick Church Pike when he jammed on his brakes to avoid hitting Norman’s cattle.
Brooksher lost control of his half-ton pickup and smashed into a tree. He wasn’t seriously hurt, but his passenger, Jody Taylor, died later that day at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. According to the police report, neither was wearing a seat belt.
The night before the accident, Brooksher had been drinking at a party, and that morning, police tested his blood alcohol content at .04 percent. While that’s considerably lower than the legal limit for adults, Brooksher’s status as a minor prompted the District Attorney’s office to charge him with vehicular homicide and driving while impaired. However, at the urging of Taylor’s father, who believes that Brooksher was not at fault, the DA’s office reduced the charges. Brooksher’s license was merely suspended.
Saying only that ”anybody can claim anything,“ a terse Kenny Norman refused to answer questions about the lawsuit and referred the Scene to his attorney, Thomas Peebles. Peebles didn’t return repeated phone calls.
In Norman’s two-page reply to the lawsuit, he denies that his cattle caused the crash. Instead, Norman contends Brooksher was driving recklessly and points out that his blood alcohol content was higher than the .02 percent limit for a teenager.
Taylor’s attorney, Phillip Davidson, counters that Brooksher’s blood alcohol content was not enough to impair his driving ability. Says Davidson, ”We feel like we have a great number of witnesses saying that these animals came out all the time and that it was a problem.“
One of Norman’s neighbors, Tosha England, says Norman always struggled to keep his cows and donkeys in his pasture.
”The fence was in bad shape, the wood was rotted, and some cattle would go through the gate,“ she recalls. ”My husband talked to him several times about it, but he was kind of snooty. He did not really care.“
England recalls one harrowing time when she was nearly attacked by one of Norman’s bulls.
”I was coming home from the grocery store one day, and this bull was in my backyard and charged at my car. I had a Mustang convertible, and those cars are pretty quick.“
While other neighbors also say they have seen Norman’s cows wandering off his property, one resident, who didn’t want to be identified, says he didn’t see any cows near the pickup truck after the accident. Adding to the uncertainty, Brooksher at first didn’t remember the crash and only later told an attorney that some kind of animal caused him to lose control of his pickup.
Phillip Davidson, the attorney, says that he has conducted his own investigation and employed a former FBI agent to interview neighbors of Norman. Portions of the fence appear to have been repaired, and neighbors now say they rarely see cows free. But Davidson says his investigation found that Norman’s cows and donkeys regularly escaped the farm on several occasions before the accident, including the morning of the crash.
With pride, Jody Taylor’s father recalls his son as a selfless kid who was active in youth groups and always there for his friends. ”He was loved by everyone and was the kind of person who always stuck up for others,“ he says. ”He had a lot going for him and is dearly missed.
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