NC Fire Department Sued for Death of Woman Run Over on Beach

The estate of a Virginia woman who died after being run over by a fire department pickup truck while lying on a North Carolina beach has filed suit against the fire department and the vehicle’s driver. Martha Mackey DeMontpellier died on September 14, 2019 after being struck by a Chevrolet Silverado belonging to the Chicamacomico Banks Fire Department and being operated by Jeremy Carpenter.

According to the complaint, DeMontpellier, 70, died at the scene. No charges were filed against Carpenter. The suit was filed in US District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina by Andre P. DeMontpellier, who is serving as the executor for his mother’s estate.

The suit alleges that Carpenter was negligent in his operation of the truck, and in particular by failing to keep a proper lookout. Quoting from the complaint:

  • The Decedent set up her beach belongings in an open and dry area of beach sand that was not in danger of the incoming waves getting her belongings wet. She spread out her large beach towel on the sand, she placed her large tote bag directly next to her, and she laid down on her towel to read and relax.
  • At all times relevant to this action, it was a sunny day with good visibility.
  • At all times relevant on September 14, 2019, there were no signs, warnings, or other information posted in the area warning the Decedent not to set up or lay down in this area to enjoy the beach, or otherwise warning or placing her on notice she might be in danger of being injured by any type of automobile in the area.
  • At all times relevant, the Decedent acted in a reasonable and prudent manner under the circumstances.
  • At approximately 2:33 p.m., Defendant Carpenter completed his activities northward along the beach and he turned around. He began driving his truck southward along the beach, back toward the East Corbina Drive access way.
  • Upon information and belief, at all times relevant to this action, Defendant Carpenter drove his truck at no more than five miles per hour.
  • Upon information and belief, at this time the Decedent was laying on her large beach towel, with her large beach tote bag next to her, on the beach sand in a large and open area near where the east end of the beach access way meets the beach front.
  • At all times relevant, the Decedent and her belongings were clearly visible to any pedestrian or motorist in the area who was keeping a proper lookout and paying proper attention.
  • Had Defendant Carpenter simply kept a proper lookout ahead of his vehicle, had he paid proper attention while driving, or had he otherwise operated his truck in a safe and prudent manner, he would have easily been able to see the Decedent on the sand and had the clear opportunity and ability to avoid striking her or causing any injury to the Decedent with his truck.
  • However, as Defendant Carpenter approached the area where the Decedent was easily visible on the beach sand, he was not keeping a proper lookout ahead of his vehicle, he was not paying proper attention while driving, and was otherwise not operating his truck in a safe and prudent manner.
  • As Defendant Carpenter drove his truck toward the mouth of the East Corbina Drive access way, he ran over the Decedent’s body with his truck. The Decedent’s torso was severely injured by the crushing weight of Defendants’ truck, causing a multitude of rib fractures and internal injuries to her abdomen and chest areas. The force of the impact and weight of the truck broke many of the Decedent’s ribs and her sternum.
  • The truck, however, did not strike or impact the Decedent’s head. As a result, upon information and belief, the Decedent consciously experienced excruciating physical pain and substantial mental suffering as she remained alive following impact.
  • Because Decedent’s brain was not damaged from the impact, she was still conscious, struggling to beath, and moaning in terrible pain and fear for many seconds. This continued even after Defendant Carpenter stopped his truck and exited the vehicle to see what he had just run over.
  • After consciously experiencing immense physical pain and mental suffering, the Decedent died on the beach sand as a direct result of her internal injuries.

The complaint alleges the fire department is liable under respondeat superior for Carpenter’s negligence. Here is a copy of the complaint:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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