Families of crash victims awarded $16 million in suit

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Another chapter of the John Weeter story was written Friday as Judge James Bickel awarded families of the five victims who died in the crash April 14, 2002, $2 million for each of the deaths in compensatory damages. On top of the compensatory damages, Bickel awarded $2 million in punitive damages for the families.

"The court finds that the amount asked for is as reasonable as the court can imagine. The court believes and finds that the conduct of John Weeter was willful and wanton and that in addition to the damages he should bear all costs of the action," Bickel said.

Connie Moffatt, grandmother to Timothy Bybee and greatgrandmother of Daulton Newcome-Bybee, both of whom died in the crash, said that no amount of money could compensate for the deaths of their loved ones.

"We'll never see all the money, it isn't about that. I don't want Weeter to every have a penny to spend on pleasure. Someone may see what happened here and keep them from doing the same thing to someone else," she said.

The many court appearances have taken a toll on the family.

"Maybe now we can begin healing. This has just torn us apart. It's bad enough to lose one person but to lose five at one time is more than you should have to bear. Every time we come to court it just opens everything up again," said Moffat.

The court session opened with testimony by Leland Splitter, Vernon County Ambulance paramedic, who was first on the scene. He testified the crash scene looked at first like two separate accidents because the two groups of cars were spread so far apart.

"There appeared to be only four people in the Taurus. The passenger side was caved in until the car was only 18 to 24 inches wide. After the fire department cut the top of the car off a baby was discovered so there were five people in the car," Splitter said.

Corporal James Wilde was the second witness to testify. He stated that once Weeter's black Mustang crossed the centerline there was nothing the driver of the Taurus could do to avoid the crash. He was asked by the plaintiff's attorney, David Slaby, if he had made any conclusions at the crash site that lead him to suspect anyone of criminal activity.

"Because of the nature of the crash and because of Mr. Weeter's actions and his statements to me I requested blood and urine samples be tested. His urine contained methamphetamine and metabolites of methamphetamine, methadone and metabolites of methadone and THC, a metabolite of marijuana."

Slaby asked if a person's ability to operate a motor vehicle would be impaired by someone with those drugs in his system.

"I couldn't say exactly to what degree but it would certainly be significant," said Wilde.

Several family members testified in the trial including the parents and the grandmother of Timothy Bybee, and the parents of Julie Newcome. All testified to the loss they suffered at the hands of Weeter. Moffatt testified that last Christmas there was more crying at her house than joy.

She stated that the crash had even taken the consolation of religion from her.

"How can a loving God do this? I know that for forgiveness for myself I've got to forgive but I can't forgive but I can't. He's taken my religion from me." Moffatt said.

Weeter was found guilty of driving his Mustang under the influence of marijuana, methamphetamine and opiates when his car crossed the center line of the highway and struck another automobile, setting a deadly chain reaction on April 14.

Timothy Bybee, 19, of Nevada, Julie Newcome, 21 and 8-month-old Daulton Newcome-Bybee of Pleasanton, Kan., 5-year-old Austin Lukenbill of Nevada and Russell Clay, 26, of Blue Mound were killed and five people were seriously injured in the four-car crash on Route 54 about a mile west of the Deerfield truck stop.

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