Birth: October 1, 1946
Death: January 14, 2007
Spouse: Mary Pridgen Downing
Children: Senia and Kenny Casey of Ozark
Parents: Atris Inez Hyatt Downing
Brothers and Sisters: Kathy Cole of Rocky Head; Landon Downing of Malvern; Melvin Downing of Rocky Head
Burial: Mount Zion Cemetery, Coffee County, Alabama, USA
The Dothan Eagle
Lance Griffin – Mar 17, 2010
The widow of a man killed in 2007 by a woman driving under the influence is appealing a judge’s order granting summary judgment to the City of Dothan, which had been accused in a lawsuit of playing a part in her husband’s death.
Circuit Judge Larry Anderson ruled recently that the City of Dothan is immune from liability in the death of Larry Downing. Downing was killed on the night of Jan. 13, 2007, when Tabitha Farmer drove into the parking lot of Southern Family Market (now Bruno’s), passed out, and struck Downing with her car. Downing died a few hours later. Farmer pleaded guilty to murder in the case.
Larry Downing’s widow, Mary Downing, filed a wrongful death suit against Farmer, Southern Family Market and the City of Dothan. She claims the City of Dothan bears responsibility because Dothan police officers stopped Farmer for suspicion of driving under the influence a short time before the fatal crash. However, she was not arrested. Depositions taken in the case offer differing viewpoints over whether Farmer appeared to be intoxicated.
A brief in the case filed by Downing’s attorney, Adam Jones, relies on the testimony of Raemonica Carney, the police officer who pulled Farmer over for suspicion of DUI. Carney indicates Farmer appeared “out of it” and obviously under the influence.
Jones’ brief outlines the chain of events that led to Downing’s death that evening.
According to testimony, a motorist who also happened to be a police dispatcher noticed Farmer driving erratically in the downtown area on the evening of Jan. 13. Testimony in the wrongful death case and in Farmer’s guilty plea in the criminal case indicates she had taken a “hit” from a can of compressed air, an inhalant commonly used to achieve an intense high. Farmer apparently blacked out as a result of inhaling the compressed air. Her vehicle rolled through the intersection of St. Andrews and Main Streets, crossed the intersection, rolled over the curb and onto the sidewalk where it ran over a city park bench.
The off-duty dispatcher contacted her fellow dispatchers and continued to follow Farmer, who was still driving in an erratic manner through downtown. Carney heard a call about a possible DUI in the downtown area and responded to the call although her shift was about to end.
Carney located Farmer’s vehicle and made a traffic stop near North Oates and Newton Streets. Two other officers who had been dispatched, Clark Rice and Darren Pert, also followed Carney as she pulled Farmer over. Carney testified that Farmer seemed “disoriented”
“(Farmer) appeared like she was not in complete control of her faculties as if she was – for lack of a better way of describing it – was just someplace else in her mind,” Carney said during her deposition. Carney went on to say she believed Farmer failed two field sobriety tests and that evidence found in her car (a can of 3M Dust Remover) led her to believe Farmer was driving under the influence.
Clark and Pert, however, disagreed with Carney’s assertions. The two officers, in deposition testimony, said they did not believe they had enough evidence to arrest Farmer, indicating she did not seem to be driving erratically when they observed her. Their judgment was that Farmer passed the field sobriety tests. Another policeman, narcotics officer Tim Miller, was also called to the scene. He states during testimony that he believed no evidence existed to detain Farmer.
She was released, and Jones’ brief indicates she took two more “hits” of compressed air on her way to Southern Family Market, the last one coming as she pulled into the store’s parking lot. She blacked out, and her car continued rolling toward the store, striking Downing, who was returning a grocery cart.
“To say the very least, substantial evidence has been presented so as to create a question of fact for a jury,” Jones wrote in arguing against summary judgment for the city.
Anderson ruled that the city is immune from liability because there is no evidence the officers acted “willfully, maliciously, fraudulently, or in bad faith, or beyond his or her authority, or under mistaken interpretation of the law.”
Jones said the mere fact that there appears to be a stark difference in officers’ recollections should make the case a matter for a jury to decide.
The appeal will be heard by the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals.