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Rock Hill football team members in deadly bus crash file suit against Chester church

Four people were killed, including an 8-year-old boy, after a charter bus carrying football players from Clinton College in Rock Hill crashed near Hamlet, N.C., on Sept. 17. Troopers say a tire blowout caused the crash, which sent more than 40 other people to area hospitals.
Four people were killed, including an 8-year-old boy, after a charter bus carrying football players from Clinton College in Rock Hill crashed near Hamlet, N.C., on Sept. 17. Troopers say a tire blowout caused the crash, which sent more than 40 other people to area hospitals. The Richmond County (N.C.) Daily Journal

A dozen members of the Rock Hill football team involved in a bus crash last month where four people died and dozens more were injured filed a lawsuit Monday against the bus owner and a parent church organization, claiming the survivors suffer from post traumatic stress disorder and other physical and emotional injuries after watching their teammates die.

The injured men not only were hurt themselves and suffered emotional trauma, but they “witnessed the injuries and deaths” of others on the bus, said David Manzi, a lawyer for the Schiller and Hamilton law firm of Fort Mill that filed the suit.

“All of our clients have physical and emotional injuries,” Manzi said, including PTSD from watching the “horrendous” injuries and deaths.

The lawsuit is believed to be the first filed – with more expected – in the deadly crash. The suit demands a jury trial but does not specify a dollar amount.

 

The 12 plaintiffs include players on the Ramah Juco Academy team and two coaches – including head coach and team founder Bakari Rawlinson. The dozen people filed suit claiming negligence against Sandy River Baptist Church, the owner of the bus, and the Sandy River Baptist Association.

The association is made up of 32 churches in Chester County – of which Sandy River Baptist Church is one, the lawsuit alleges. Federal documents have shown the bus was not registered as a for-hire bus.

Killed in the crash carrying about two dozen Clinton College students who were players were the bus driver Brian Andre Kirkpatrick, 43, of Chester; Clinton College students Devonte Gibson, 21, of Rock Hill and Tito Hamilton, 19, of Pahokee, Fla; and Darice Lamont Hicks Jr., 8, of Rock Hill. Hicks’ father was a coach on the team.

The injured – from Texas, South Carolina and North Carolina - endured pain, suffering, physical impairment and other injuries, the suit alleges. Manzi, the lawyer who filed the lawsuit, said with court action the plaintiffs now can demand answers from the bus owners.

The lawsuit claims the church and the association failed to properly maintain and service the bus and its tires. The lawsuit also alleges the church and association “failed to maker proper inspection of the bus” before it left Rock Hill for its destination of Fayetteville, N.C. The team was scheduled to play its first game Sept. 17 when the bus crashed on U.S. 74 near Hamlet, N.C. The left front tire blew, causing the bus to hit a guardrail then smash into a bridge.

Both the church and the association are classified as nonprofits by the S.C. Secretary of State’s Office. Efforts to reach the church and association Monday were unsuccessful.

A federal investigation into the crash is is not complete. Troopers in North Carolina have said no criminal charges will be filed but the bus owners face civil penalties.

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