Columnist

SC Supreme Court orders civil trial for victim of Rock Hill serial shooter

April 10, 2014 

Somehow, Ida Neal Lord survived the Valentine’s Day 2008 attack by a serial shooter that left her in a coma for months and then disabled.

The shooter, Phillip Watts, who robbed seven York County businesses and shot four people – with Lord as the last and most seriously injured victim – is serving eight life sentences.

Six years later, Lord will finally get her day in court, too.

The state Supreme Court ruled late Wednesday in a 4-1 decision that Lord deserves a trial in a civil lawsuit she filed after she was shot at the Cash on the Spot check-cashing business on South Cherry Road.

Her lawsuit alleged that the business should have had a security guard on-site after weeks of mayhem in 2007 and 2008 that terrified York County. It had been dismissed before ever seeing a jury that would determine if the business was at fault.

“This is one of the happiest days of my life,” said Lord, 48. “I have waited so long for this. He shot me and he took away everything I had.”

Lord was initially paralyzed after Watts shot her first in the head, then in the back as he tried to rob the store. Lord endured years of physical therapy and rehabilitation.

She still has one disfigured arm and often needs a walker. She had to learn how to walk and talk again.

Before the shooting, Lord was a hospice home health care worker with three kids and 11 grandchildren. Now unable to work, she gets a small disability payment but is forced to live in subsidized housing in her hometown of York and often has to turn to food banks and pantries to survive.

Even the one Supreme Court justice who voted against Lord’s getting a trial described the carnage Watts inflicted this way: “The facts of this case are tragic, the trauma and injuries to appellant (Lord) horrific.”

Lord’s lawsuit, filed five years ago, was dismissed by a judge who ruled that Watts’ previous crimes had been at other places nowhere near Cash on the Spot, so the business had no duty to protect Lord from criminal activity that had not yet happened.

Before the dismissal, court transcripts show that the store’s management had told employees to be vigilant that there was “a madman on the loose” after extensive coverage by The Herald about the string of then-unsolved crimes.

The dismissal was upheld by the state Court of Appeals, but the Supreme Court’s ruling breathes new life into Lord’s case.

Before Watts was caught after shooting Lord, he had terrorized York County in the robberies and shootings of people in Fort Mill and Rock Hill. A store clerk and customer were shot by Watts in Fort Mill just days before Lord was shot, and Watts shot a clerk in Rock Hill weeks before Lord was shot.

But at the time Lord was shot, Watts was still unidentified and on the loose.

“We are grateful that finally, Ida Lord will get her day in court,” said Robert Reeves, the Fort Mill lawyer who has represented her for more than five years. “What happened to her was not her fault.”

Cash on the Spot was owned and operated by D&J Enterprises, a Columbia-based company that operates payday lending, vehicle title and check-cashing businesses. Efforts to reach Leland Greeley of Rock Hill, the lawyer for D&J, were unsuccessful.

The insurance giant that covered D&J successfully severed itself from the lawsuit after filing a federal lawsuit of its own – against Lord – claiming that the felony crime voided any responsibility to pay Lord an insurance settlement.

The Supreme Court ruling stated that D&J “clearly recognized it was susceptible to an armed robbery,” and that it had installed security cameras, bars on windows and had employees behind bulletproof glass with panic buttons to trigger silent alarms.

Lord’s case should be decided by a jury because expert testimony showed “there was a foreseeable risk” at the store, Justice Donald Beatty wrote, “given the rash of armed robberies that culminated in the shootings of store clerks and customers at nearby businesses.”

D&J could ask the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision, but a change of decision is unlikely. It remains unclear when the case could come to trial, but Reeves hopes the business will consider a settlement.

“I can’t imagine taking sweet Ida Lord before a jury,” Reeves said, where a team of lawyers for the business would try and show the disabled Lord is not the victim.

Watts, 26 – who has had a criminal record since middle school and had only been released from a juvenile prison weeks before he started his crime spree – is serving eight life sentences after pleading guilty but mentally ill after he was convicted in his first trial.

He continues to file appeals from prison, where he has been caught several times with drugs and other contraband, authorities say.

One of the other victims in Watts’ rampage, former Fort Mill Mayor Charles Powers, was a customer at a Fort Mill store on Feb. 5, 2008 when Watts shot him in the face, then shot the clerk.

Powers and Lord became friends during Watts’ criminal trials.

“I am happy to hear that Ida finally got some good news,” Powers said of the Supreme Court’s decision. “She never did anything to anybody. Watts did it to her.”

Lord said maybe now she will get a chance at justice.

“I never gave up,” she said. “I’m still not giving up.”

Andrew Dys •  803-329-4065 •  adys@heraldonline.com

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