Rogersville attorney Mark Stapleton is representing Shannon Marie Eaton, 28, 566 Oak Grove Road, Rogersville, and her three children ages 9, 5 and 2 — all of whom were passengers in a Windstar van involved in the two-vehicle accident at the intersection of Highway 11-W and Park Boulevard.
Tennessee Highway Patrol charges are still pending against the driver of that van, William A. Dotson, 24, of Freeburn, Ky., who was allegedly at fault in the accident.
Eaton was the most seriously injured of everyone involved in the accident, and prior to Christmas was still in a coma.
“She’s improving. She’s doing good. She cannot talk because of a tracheotomy, but they think she’ll be able to talk when that is removed,” Stapleton said. “She had a cervical spine fracture, which is the neck. She broke her right arm, her pelvis (is broken) in four places, and had two fractures of the spine in her lower back. She is conscious and alert and should recover to a certain extent, but she’s got a long way to go.”
The accident occurred the night of Dec. 3 when — according to THP reports — the van driven by Dotson was attempting to make a left turn from 11-W onto Park Boulevard and pulled into the path of a Ford Explorer that was eastbound on 11-W and driven by David Edward Chess, 35, 170 Shanks Gap Road, Rogersville. Chess was the lone occupant of the Explorer.
The only person in the accident who was restrained was Eaton’s 2-year-old child, who was treated and released the night of the accident. Her children ages 9 and 5 were ejected from the van and landed on the ground down an embankment from the southeast corner of the intersection. Investigating THP Trooper David Burns said their landing on the ground, as opposed to the asphalt road, probably saved the children’s lives.
The 5-year-old boy was released from Holston Valley Medical Center on Dec. 12. after being treated for a closed head injury and a collapsed lung.
The 9-year-old boy was released from the University of Tennessee Medical Center after suffering a broken jaw, nose and cheekbone, as well as a fracture in the roof of his mouth. Stapleton said he is scheduled to be evaluated next week regarding whether the wiring that has been holding his broken facial bones together can be removed.
The 9-year-old also suffered a broken right arm.
All three children are currently in the custody of their grandmother.
Dotson suffered a cervical spine fracture and was released after two days at the UT Medical Center.
Stapleton also represents Chess, who suffered shoulder and neck injuries but also nearly had his entire scalp sheared away from his skull as a result of the accident.
“His scalp was cut off with the exception of a 5-inch section which kept it from being totally removed, but his skull was exposed,” Stapleton said. “It was awful, but they’ve got him sewed up, and he’s going to have permanent scarring around the top of his head. His hair will grow back in and hopefully hide that scar, but we’re still not sure about his shoulder and cervical spine.”
Although Dotson has not been charged as of yet, Chess was charged with driving on a suspended license and driving without insurance. Chess will be arraigned on those charges on Jan. 21 in Hawkins County Sessions Court.
Dotson was driving a van owned and insured by Eaton’s mother, and Stapleton said he represents the four passengers in the van, as well as Chess, in their effort to secure a settlement from Eaton’s mother’s insurance company. No lawsuit has been filed in this accident as of yet.
“Nothing has been filed and there’s insurance involved, so these claims are likely to settle,” Stapleton said. “We’ve got some ongoing investigation as to the signaling and timing the red, yellow and green lights at that intersection and the possibility that we had a green ball versus a green arrow. The issue surrounding the working and/or malfunctioning of the lights remains unresolved at this time.
“There’s been criticism in the past over those lights, but we’ve never confirmed a malfunction. The city would be liable if there was (a light malfunction).”