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W.Va. police settle lawsuit with chase victim's parents

February 20, 1998

By CLYDE FORD

Staff Writer

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The West Virginia State Police will pay $775,000 to the parents of Amanda Smailes to settle a lawsuit they filed over her death in a collision with a drunken driver who was being pursued by police.

"I would trade every penny of it to have Mandy back," said her father, John Smailes of Inwood, W.Va. "But that's not possible, is it?"

"Obviously no amount of money could compensate the Smailes for what they've gone through. This is about accountability," said Larry Schultz, attorney for the Smailes family.

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John and Cynthia Smailes filed the lawsuit on Aug. 21 in Berkeley County Circuit Court.

Their daughter, Amanda "Mandy" Smailes, 21, was driving home on the morning of Nov. 24, 1996, from her job at Wal-Mart in Martinsburg, W.Va., where she worked while attending Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

She was on U.S. 11 when Robert Lee Sparkman Jr., 29, of Gerrardstown, collided with her 1989 Ford Escort. The impact sent her car off the road and into a utility pole.

At his trial, police said Sparkman was driving at more than 100 mph with State Trooper Kevin Plumer in pursuit with a video crew in his cruiser taping the chase.

Sparkman was convicted of driving under the influence resulting in death. He received a 1-to-10 year prison sentence.

The Smailes campaigned for and won a change in the state law to increase the penalties for those fleeing police.

Now the Smailes want to see the West Virginia State Police change their pursuit policies.

State Police Superintendent Gary Edgell said Friday that procedures involving state police pursuits are being reviewed, according to The Associated Press.

"What happened that tragic evening cannot be undone but we need to take appropriate action to reduce the chance of this reoccurring," Edgell told The Associated Press.

"A lot of mistakes were made by others and she paid the ultimate price," John Smailes said.

"If they don't change the policy, more innocent people will die," Schultz said.

Schultz disagreed with Edgell that the settlement, paid for by the state police's insurance carrier, was not an admission of fault.

Schultz said insurance companies do not pay such large settlements unless the other side is at fault.

The settlement takes Plumer and the West Virginia State Police out of the case, but the lawsuit continues against Sparkman, Piggie's Place, a Berkeley County bar where he allegedly had been drinking, and those involved in the video taping, Wayne Lepoff, Leap Off Productions Inc., New World Entertainment, Peter Schmidt and Jim Allen Porter, Schultz said.

The trial is scheduled for October, Schultz said.

"There's a long way to go in this case and we still intend to go all the way," Schultz said.

John Smailes said he thinks of his daughter hourly. Looking at a picture of her Thursday triggered a memory of when she was at a friend's wedding and she caught the bouquet.

"She should not have had to go out in such a violent way," he said.

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