Verdict returned in Monongalia County civil suit for DUI-related death

UPDATE: A Monongalia County jury has awarded more than $6.4 million in total compensatory damages to survivors of Carli Sears, 20, of Kanawha County, who was killed in 2016.

As part of its verdict returned early Thursday afternoon in the civil case against Alexander Hambrick, 22, of Putnam County, the jury has assigned Hambrick $1.25 million in punitive damages.

The Dominion Post’s William Dean was in the courtroom throughout the trial and for the verdict on Thursday and will have the full story later.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Carli Sears was an extremely outgoing and kind person, according to her sister, mother and father, who all testified on Wednesday, the second day of the civil suit over her death.

Sears was struck and killed while walking to a friend’s apartment. Alexander Hambrick, then 19, was drinking and driving. He pleaded guilty to DUI with death and leaving the scene of an accident involving death in December 2016.

Carli Sears, 20, was visiting friends in Morgantown when she was killed.

Sears’ father, Brent Sears, filed the suit being heard by Monongalia County Circuit Court Judge Phillip Gaujot.

Crying several times during his testimony, Brent echoed the statements made by Julie Sears, Carli’s mother, and Mackenzie Sears, her sister.

“She was outgoing and on top of it,” he said.

Mackenzie said her sister was the responsible one and Brent shared a story about a box of different colored strings she kept as a child that was always well organized and maintained.

“God plucked my angel up and our lives will never be the same,” Julie said.

It wasn’t uncommon for Carli to be away at college for three or four months, and the longer past that time that she didn’t come to visit the more real it became that she was really gone, Julie said.

Both parents said they were very involved in raising their daughters and despite being divorced, their family situation worked well for them.

Julie spoke of Camp Twin Creeks, where Carli and Mackenzie spent every summer, both as campers and counselors.

Carli was supposed to have an internship there the summer after she was killed.

Everyone loved Carli, her family said.

Her sisters in Alpha Omicron Pi, Carli’s sorority at Ole Miss where she was working towards a degree in hospitality management, started a memorial scholarship in her name, Brent said.

“There will always be a hole in my heart,” he said.

Jurors heard from Clifford Hawley, an economist who calculated Carli’s likely lifetime earnings and the value of her lost household services.

If Carli had finished her bachelor’s, which she was on track to do, she likely would have made $3.1 million to $3.7 million over her life, Hawley said.

The lower number accounts for the average working life of women with bachelor degrees in America, of 35 years, he said.

If she had gone on to earn a master’s degree, Carli would have likely made $3.5 million to $4.2 million, Hawley said.

All four of those figures include $745,312 in lost value for household services — things like cleaning and mowing the yard, that if we don’t do someone has to be paid to do, Hawley testified.

He agreed with defense attorney Tiffany Durst that the numbers were averages and that it was possible she could have not completed her degree or earned a degree and never entered the workforce.

Hambrick also took the stand as the last witness of the day.

“There’s nothing I could say or do to take back what I did,” he said.

Hambrick admitted to Durst that he lied multiple times in an interview with Detective Daren Crouse, with Morgantown Police.

“I was 19, I was a kid, I was there by myself,” Hambrick said. “I was scared to death.”

He maintained that he was telling Crouse the truth when he said he didn’t remember hitting Carli and that he still doesn’t. He did not deny that he was the one driving the truck that killed her or that he was drunk at the time.

Jurors heard Hambrick describe the Anthony Center, a correctional facility that gives offenders younger than 26 years old a trade skill and second chance after their release.

He told them he’s completed 193 hours of the 200 community service hours he was ordered to do and how after he was released from home confinement he became a first-year carpenter’s apprentice.

Hambrick has also paid about $8,000, or about half, of the ordered restitution.

After both sides rested, Gaujot dismissed the jury for the day and granted a motion by Tom Peyton, the plaintiff’s attorney, for a directed verdict for medical bills and funeral expenses.

That means Hambrick will be responsible for those costs no matter what the jury decides. Those costs total $42,890.89.

The trial resumes at 9 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 30.

Story by William Dean

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