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TMCNet:  BB&T accused of destroying evidence in wrongful-death lawsuit

[December 21, 2012]

BB&T accused of destroying evidence in wrongful-death lawsuit

Dec 21, 2012 (Winston-Salem Journal - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- The mother of a 16-year-old who died with her father in a car crash is accusing the father's employer, BB&T Insurance Services, of destroying cell phone records that she says prove the father was doing business on the phone at the time of the crash.


Stuart Thomas, 49, was a vice president of BB&T Insurance Services and was driving an SUV on Interstate 40 in Mocksville on Aug. 23, 2011, with his daughter, Emma Thomas. She had attended Westchester Country Day School in High Point before transferring to a boarding school in New York in 2010.

The SUV slammed into the back of a tractor-trailer that had slowed down as traffic merged into the left lane. The right lane was closed. Stuart Thomas was killed instantly, and Emma Thomas, who was transported by helicopter to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, died two days later.

Emma Thomas' mother, Leslie Page Gill, filed an amended complaint Thursday in Guilford Superior Court to a wrongful-death lawsuit she initially filed in February. She is suing BB&T Insurance Services, a subsidiary of BB&T Corp. in Winston-Salem, and the estate of Stuart Thomas.

Gill alleges in the lawsuit that Thomas' use of his cell phone distracted him, resulting in the car crash.

In the amended complaint, her attorney, Robert J. King III, alleges that BB&T Insurance Services deleted "not only all of Mr. Thomas' emails and voicemails, but had sent a 'wipe' command to Mr. Thomas' cell phone that deleted all data on the phone, including the information that would have shown what Mr. Thomas was doing at the moment of the collision." Greg York, the attorney for BB&T, could not be reached for comment. BB&T has denied liability in the lawsuit and has 30 days to respond to the specific allegations in the amended complaint.

King alleges in the complaint that he had sought the cell phone data after BB&T denied that Thomas was using his phone for work. Thomas' widow, Andrea Thomas, testified that Thomas did not use his cell phone while driving on the day of the crash. King said he requested data from Thomas' cell phone, and Thomas' estate produced a report showing that the data from Aug. 22 and Aug. 23 were missing.

The complaint said one of BB&T's witnesses testified during an Oct. 29 deposition that BB&T had destroyed the cell phone data.

"Once BB&T was caught destroying evidence, it attempted to justify its conduct by claiming it was trying to protect confidential information from falling into the hands of third parties," the complaint said. "However, BB&T could have sent a remote 'lock' command to the phone, thereby securing its information while preserving the evidence for the plaintiff. Instead, BB&T chose to destroy the key evidence in this case, and then hide such destruction from the plaintiff." Jeff Kuykendall, one of the attorneys representing Stuart Thomas' estate, said he could not comment on pending litigation.

"This is a tragic accident that ended the life of a loving father and his 16-year-old daughter prematurely," he said.

The lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial the week of Jan. 14 in Guilford Superior Court.

mhewlett@wsjournal.com (336) 727-7326 ___ (c)2012 Winston-Salem Journal (Winston Salem, N.C.) Visit Winston-Salem Journal (Winston Salem, N.C.) at www2.journalnow.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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