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Jurors' decision mostly favors fire company

June 14, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

After deliberating for more than four hours Friday night, jurors hearing the case between the City of Martinsburg and Ryneal Fire Co. No. 1 returned a verdict that mostly favored Ryneal.

The six-person jury awarded ownership of three ambulances to Ryneal, but said the city was entitled to 25 percent of the money in Ryneal's account. They also said a fire rescue truck should remain with the city.

After the verdict, Ryneal President Mary Helmick gave her daughter a long hug and smiled.

Outside the courtroom, she said the verdict was everything she wanted. Ryneal will now use the three ambulances to open a private medical transport business outside of Shepherdstown.

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"I'm happy," she said. "I'm very pleased with the outcome."

City attorney Michael Lorensen said he had not received word on whether the city would appeal the decision.

Asked for his thoughts as he descended the courtroom's steps, Lorensen said, "It was a problem that needed to be solved, and this solved it."

The problem revolved around who owned the vehicles. Ryneal, which has had a relationship with the city for nearly a century, paid for them and held the titles.

City officials maintained the city owned the vehicles because they were paid for with money from ambulance runs using city personnel. Whenever someone needed to be taken to the hospital in a Martinsburg Fire Department ambulance, they were billed. Ryneal collected that money and used it to buy equipment.

Ryneal's attorney, Michael Scales in his closing remarks repeatedly referred to the city's actions as a "money grab," especially when the city demanded on Feb. 11 that Ryneal turn over the vehicles and its money.

Jurors did not accept Scales' assertion that Ryneal should receive $640,000 from the city. Scales said that amount is what Ryneal would have received in ambulance user fees had the city continued using the ambulances.

During testimony Friday, Helmick said if Ryneal prevailed in the suit members of the corporation planned to open the private medical transport business.

Jurors deliberated from around 6:35 p.m. until 11 p.m., opting not to reconvene next week. They had pizzas delivered.

Outside the courtroom after jurors left, Martinsburg Finance Director Mark Spickler said he hopes the 25 percent of Ryneal's funds awarded to the city will be enough to pay for the city's attorney. Previously, city councilmen approved hiring Lorensen at a projected cost of $20,000.

Although Spickler testified on behalf of the city, he asked Helmick whether he and she were still friends. She briefly rubbed his back and said yes.

How much Ryneal has is not certain. Minutes from Ryneal's Feb. 6 meeting indicate the company had $153,000 at that time, according to testimony.

Ryneal now does not have nearly that amount, Helmick told Spickler.

The amount will be determined, Circuit Court Judge David Sanders said.

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