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Roanoke County jury gives $5 million to family of slain worker
The two drivers convicted in the death of Richard Slone were ordered to pay each of his children $2.5 million in damages.
The Roanoke Times
Tracie Nininger (left) and Jeffrey Dupree were found guilty in 2008 in the death of Richard Slone. Slone's estate filed a wrongful death suit against the pair. Now Slone’s son and daughter each will receive $2 million in compensatory damages and $500,000 in punitive damages.
Monday, March 11, 2013
Karen Bratton smiled hopefully across the courtroom at her niece and nephew Monday afternoon, then crossed her fingers behind her back.
Moments later, jurors returned a verdict that likely had answered her silent wish: Jeffrey Dupree and Tracie Nininger, the two drivers convicted in the death of Bratton’s brother, Richard Slone, were ordered to pay each of his two children $2.5 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
The verdict came after a five-day civil trial in Roanoke County Circuit Court, and five years after the February 2008 night Slone was killed while working construction along Electric Road.
Nininger and Dupree, friends who that evening had been ejected from a downtown Roanoke restaurant for drunkenness, were later driving separately past Slone’s construction site. Nininger’s Hummer H3 struck a tractor’s blade and was then hit from behind by Dupree, who was following her in his Chevrolet Avalanche.
Evidence has shown Slone was crushed against a nearby dump truck by both the blade and Nininger’s vehicle, and he died within minutes.
Later that year, the two were found guilty of aggravated involuntary manslaughter and driving under the influence in the fatal wreck, and both ultimately served about two and a half years in prison.
As in the criminal case, defense attorneys argued that safety conditions around the construction site played a greater role than drunk driving in the crash.
Nininger’s attorney, Christopher Owens, argued that no flagman had been on duty when the two drivers approached the work zone, and he said that the road signs in place hadn’t properly indicated the risks the drivers were approaching.
“Just because someone was killed doesn’t mean someone was at fault,” Owens told jurors.
Sean Workowski, Dupree’s lawyer, pointed to recorded vehicle data information and to statistics about stopping distances as reasons he felt his client hadn’t been negligent.
Both defense attorneys said they believed the tractor had backed into the road in front of Nininger.
But in his closing arguments, Bratton’s attorney, Neal Johnson, took umbrage with what he said were defense attempts to “inject confusion” into the case against the testimony of other workers on the scene.
“Here come these two drunks ... they say all of a sudden this tractor jumped out like a deer,” Johnson said. “Who are you going to believe?”
He said Slone’s son Ken, 20, and daughter Sara, 21, “do not want sympathy. They want justice.” Then he asked the jurors: “What’s the value of a very, very good father?”
Johnson suggested a figure in the case — $2 million in compensatory damages, as well as $500,000 in punitive damages to each child — and jurors took a little over two hours to grant that request.
The jury of six men and one woman also ordered Nininger and Dupree, who did not give testimony in their defense, to pay $10,000 in funeral expenses to Slone’s family.
Jurors approached afterward said they did not wish to discuss their decision in the case.
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