By JOY HAMPTON

Staff Writer



The Board of County Commissioners may be sued — again.

For the fourth time in recent months, the county agenda listed a tort claim.

In most cases, Assistant District Attorney Barry Farbro advises the Board to deny such claims. Following that, petitioners have a set amount of time to file suit against the county.

The wrongful death tort claim by Jeff McQueen is for the estate of Doris McQueen and minor Heather McQueen. The claim also covers physical and emotional injury to Heather during an accident July 6.

A letter from attorney A.G. Murray, Jr. said the claim is in response to the accident resulting from the patrol car driven by Rogers County Deputy Sheriff Joseph Batt colliding with the vehicle driven by Doris McQueen.

The accident resulted in the deaths of McQueen and Claremore police dispatcher Amanda Kelley and injured McQueen’s daughter, Heather.

Jeff McQueen was the husband of Doris and is Heather’s father.

The letter states that “Batt was acting within the scope of his employment as Deputy Sheriff of the Rogers County Sheriff’s office when the accident occurred.”

Following the accident, investigators from the Oklahoma Department of Highway Patrol ruled that Batt’s speed was a contributing cause of the accident but the actual cause was due to failure to yield by McQueen.

After reviewing those findings, Delaware County District Attorney Eddie Wyant told the Progress that although “Batt wasn’t using his lights or sirens, he would not be charged because of McQueen’s failure to yield from a stop sign, causing the crash. It’s my opinion that it would not be appropriate to file (criminal) charges against the deputy.”

The OHP report was given to Wyant by Rogers County District Attorney Gene Haynes who cited a “conflict of interest.”

Because the OHP report is an investigation, it was not released to the public.

In August, a tort claim filed by Kelley’s parents against Batt and Rogers County was denied by Rogers County Commissioners.

Kelley was a passenger in Batt’s car at the time of the collision. That claim was filed for personal injuries and wrongful death of in the amount of $175,000.

Deputy Batt was en route to respond on a drunk driving call, traveling on Highway 66 near Foyil that night. Kelley had requested a ride-along with the deputy because she was interested in pursuing a career in law enforcement.

More recent claims against the county include two wrongful termination suits.

On Dec. 28 Jo Dawn Mathews, formerly of the County Clerk’s office, filing a wrongful termination suit against the county. Earlier in the year, Mathews filed a tort claim denied by commissioners.

Former District 3 employee Michael Seely filed a wrongful termination suit against the county in January. At the time of the suit, he had not been aware that he must first submit a tort claim. A short time later he did file a tort claim which commissioners denied.

According to Haynes, the tort claim on the county agenda is the step that precedes a law suit. If the tort claim is denied, the applicant has the choice of dropping the matter or filing a civil suit in district court.

Haynes believes the McQueen claim is a formality that will clear things up for insurance companies.

“Before they can file a law suit, there has to be a tort claim,” said Haynes. “There will be a law suit filed, but a settlement has been reached with the insurance companies, and this is just a formality to resolve all the claims.”

In the case of suits against the county, legal representation hired by Traveler’s Insurance handles the defense of the claims, said Haynes. His office is not involved with the litigation.

Farbro had e-mailed instructions to the commissioners advising them to deny the tort claim by McQueen.

Instead, commissioners tabled the matter, saying they wanted to consult with Farbro in executive session before taking action.

Farbro was working in Craig County on Tuesday and unable to attend the meeting. Haynes had been called away due to a death in the family.

Contact Joy Hampton at 341-1101 or at news4@claremoreprogress.com