MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The civil suit against Alexander Hambrick, 22, who struck and killed Carli Sears, 20, while driving drunk in January 2016, began Tuesday.
Judge Phillip Gaujot is presiding over the case in Monongalia County Circuit Court. The suit was filed by Brent Sears, Carli Sear’s father.
Hambrick, then 19, pleaded guilty in December 2016 to DUI with death and leaving the scene of an accident involving death, commonly known as Erin’s Law. He served 10 months in the Anthony Center, a correctional facility for youthful offenders, six months of home confinement and is on probation for seven years.
During his opening statement to the three men and women of the jury, Tom Peyton, representing the Sears family, said the case was about compensating Sears’ family for medical expenses, funeral costs and the wages she would have earned over her life. He said that the law could only provide Sears’ family with money, not bring her back.
“The law can’t turn back time,” Peyton said.
He told the jury they would hear from an economist who would provide them with a framework for what Sears would have earned over her life if she had finished her bachelor’s degree at Ole Miss and what her likely income could have been if she had earned a master’s degree.
Peyton said he would ask the jury for the maximum amount.
He also said he would urge the jury to award punitive damages, designed to punish and deter similar behavior in the future. Lawyers cannot ask for a specific number for punitive damages — only the jury could decide that, he said.
Hambrick’s attorney, Tiffany Durst, said she would not contest any evidence that Hambrick was driving the vehicle or that he was doing so intoxicated.
Durst said Hambrick would testify he’s accepted responsibility for his actions. He pleaded guilty to two felonies rather than try to plea to a lesser charge, as is common, she said.
She asked the jury to remember when deciding on a number that punitive damages are intended to punish and that Hambrick has been punished. He successfully completed his time in the Anthony Center and has done everything asked of him since he pleaded guilty, Durst said.
“He has been punished,” she said.
Madeline Wymer, Sears’ life-long friend, was the first witness called. She described Sears as “bubbly” and outgoing and said the two of them called each other almost every morning.
She told the jury she was only feet away from Sears when she was killed. Sears was visiting her in Morgantown, her last chance to do so before she returned to college, Wymer said.
The two had lunch at Applebee’s on Jan. 16, the Saturday before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Wymer said. They then hung out at Wymer’s apartment, visited a friend and then went back to Wymer’s apartment, she said.
Wymer, Sears and other friends then walked downtown to a bar and later that night, after waiting a half hour for a taxi, started walking home.
The two were walking up Stewart Street, with Wymer about three feet ahead of Sears and on the inside of the sidewalk when she heard a loud noise.
Upon turning around, Wymer saw Sears’ boot on the ground and a black truck driving away, she said.
Wymer said she heard a car coming but didn’t see it.
“We were on the sidewalk, so naturally we thought we were safe,” she said.
Sears was pointed out to her by someone on the deck of the apartments next to the collision, about 30 yards away down an embankment. Wymer said she was the first to reach Sears, and someone from those apartments who said she was a nurse or nursing student, came and started doing CPR while Wymer called 911.
The two were only about 50 yards from Wymer’s apartment. She said she walked home after the ambulance took Sears to the hospital.
The paramedic who treated Sears on the scene, Clayton Rinehart, also testified about the treatment he provided her.
Rinehart said when he arrived, the fire department and police were already on scene and a bystander was doing CPR on Sears.
MECCA had warned that the patient was in cardiac arrest, so he grabbed a heart monitor before exiting the ambulance and hooked Sears up to it. He couldn’t find a pulse, and Sears was not breathing, he said.
CPR continued and Sears regained a heartbeat, but she did not begin breathing again and she was assisted with a mask and oxygen on the way to the hospital.
Sears was unresponsive the entire ride and two attempts to intubate her to establish a better airway failed because she vomited during both attempts, Rinehart said.
Durst did not ask questions of either witness.
The trial continues at 9 a.m. Nov. 28.