Wake County

Bus crash victim’s family awarded $225,000

Joe Shelton was two days away from marking two years of sobriety, following years of substance abuse, when he was hit and killed by a Wake County school bus, according to a state Industrial Commission ruling.

Shelton, a welder, 41, was riding a scooter to work on March 19, 2013, when a Wake County bus driven by Jimmie Eberhart turned left in Shelton’s path at 6:14 a.m. According to a Feb. 5 state Industrial Commission ruling that awarded $225,000 to his children, Shelton lived for 54 minutes after being hit, experiencing “agonal breathing” or gasping respiration, when first seen by a police officer.

As part of the ruling, Deputy Commissioner J. Brad Donovan of the Industrial Commission found that Eberhart, who remains on the job, had “breached his duty of care” by failing to yield after having seen Shelton’s scooter approach.

“The family is pleased that the deputy commissioner recognized that Mr. Shelton did not do anything wrong and the deputy commissioner recognized that the children suffered the significant loss of their father,” Raleigh attorney Michael Malone, who represented the family, said Wednesday.

Noelle Talley, a spokeswoman for the state Attorney General’s Office, which represented Wake County Public School System in the case, said the office had no immediate plans to appeal the ruling. The state, not the school system, would pay the award to the family.

Wake County schools spokeswoman Lisa Luten, who confirmed Eberhart’s ongoing employment, noted that Eberhart was not charged at the time of the accident. According to the driver’s original account, the headlight on Shelton’s scooter was not on at the time of the accident.

However, an investigation that included testimony from professional engineer Steven H. Farlow found that the scooter headlight had been “operating and lit,” according to a commission ruling of April 22, 2015. Malone said Wednesday that Shelton would not have been able to operate his vehicle without a headlight in the early-morning darkness and fog that day.

Luten said the school system would look into the commission’s finding in relation to Eberhart’s employment.

Shelton’s children, who live in Virginia, were 12, 15 and 16 at the time of the accident. Shelton married their mother in 1996 and was divorced in 2004, moving into his father’s house, according to court documents. He moved out after continued substance abuse.

“Decedent fell behind on child support obligations and, in 2007, was arrested and sent to jail for unpaid child support,” the commissioner’s ruling states. “He was in jail for approximately one year and at the time of his arrest he owed approximately $20,000.”

Following a period of homelessness, Shelton went to live at the Healing Place substance-abuse facility in Raleigh and entered recovery. He had returned to work as a welder and resumed child support payments and contact with his children in his last years, the ruling said.

Thomas Goldsmith: 919-829-8929, @tommygoldsmith