St. John deputy, sheriff sued over wreck that killed woman

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 21, 1998

By Leonard Gray / L’Observateur / January 21, 1998

LAPLACE – The family of Deborah Johnson James, who died after beingstruck by a St. John Parish Sheriff’s deputy vehicle, filed suit last weekagainst the deputy and Sheriff Wayne L. Jones.

The victim’s husband, Donald James, filed the wrongful death suit againstLt. Juan Watkins in the 40th Judicial District Court in Edgard on Jan. 13 onbehalf of himself and their children.

The suit outlined that on Dec. 15, Deborah James was leaving Interstate10, driving a 1989 Hyundai, and as she entered U.S. Highway 51 she waswrongfully struck and killed by Watkins.

Watkins had been hurrying to a suspicious-person call in Manchac.

The suit claims that as Watkins was speeding and traveling withoutemergency lights or sirens, he was at fault in the accident.

On the other hand, according to Trooper Bryan Zeringue of the LouisianaState Police Troop B, Watkins’ accident was subjected to “quite a fewreconstructions” and it was concluded Watkins was not at fault.”He was rolling on a priority call,” Zeringue stated.

Such criteria as crush factors and skid marks were examined at the sceneby State Police investigators. “Nothing could have been done to avoid thecollision,” Zeringue added, noting, “It is unclear whether she stoppedfirst.”

According to the official report, the James vehicle either stopped at thestop sign at the intersection of the I-10 exit ramp with U.S. 51 or drovethrough the intersection, disregarding the sign.

Either way, Watkins was authorized to be traveling 60 mph in the 45 mphzone, acting in response to the emergency call, Zeringue continued.

The lawsuit says, on the other hand, that Watkins’ speeding and failure tomaintain a proper lookout and proper control over his vehicle caused theaccident.

The family is asking for an unspecified amount of money for damages.

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