HUNTINGTON — An internal investigation is underway after a lawsuit was filed accusing a Lawrence County Sheriff’s deputy of driving drunk earlier this month and crashing into a car full of juveniles.
The lawsuit was filed in Cabell County Circuit Court by Joseph and Tracy Brumfield, on behalf of their juvenile child, against Jason B. Newman, a Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department detective, and Phyllis A. Akers. Newman is accused of negligence and emotional distress. Akers is being sued for emotional distress because the suit alleges she knew Newman had planned on drinking that evening when she loaned him the vehicle he had been driving.
Two downtown Huntington bars — St. Mark’s Lounge and The Jockey Club — and unnamed bartenders are also named in the lawsuit, and are accused of serving Newman alcohol in excess.
According to the lawsuit, the Brumfields’ daughter, accompanied by two other juveniles, was driving at about 10 p.m. Aug. 5 near 6th Street in Chesapeake, Ohio, when her vehicle was struck head-on by Newman's as the girls attempted to turn east onto 3rd Street. Newman was cited for running a red light, but questions about Newman’s sobriety have been raised in the lawsuit.
It states that prior to the crash, Newman had been celebrating his new engagement at both bars, which continued to serve him alcohol “past the point in time at which Newman was visibly intoxicated.”
Newman’s drunkenness can be seen on a video posted on social media around 9:30 p.m. prior to the crash, the lawsuit alleges. Newman left soon after, driving across the Robert C. Byrd Bridge, where he allegedly ran a red light, his vehicle striking the Brumfields’ vehicle.
A Chesapeake police officer allegedly witnessed the crash and Newman immediately identified himself as a member of the local drug task force, showing him his police identification. The lawsuit alleges the officer noticed Newman’s speech was slurred and there was alcohol about his person. The officer called the Lawrence County Dispatch to request an Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper to perform a field sobriety test.
During that time, two of the girls were taken to a hospital for evaluation.
The lawsuit alleges four Lawrence County Sheriff’s deputies then arrived at the scene to take over the investigation, and at least one of them requested OSHP not be dispatched. The lawsuit alleges Newman was taken home by one of the responding deputies.
In a Facebook response to the lawsuit, Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless said it had been suggested alcohol may have been a factor in the crash. Lawless said he spoke with the father of the driver and several witnesses who were at the scene of the collision.
An investigation was conducted and reviewed with the Lawrence County prosecutor, who requested the court appoint a special prosecutor to conduct an independent review of the evidence to determine if additional charges should be filed.
Lawless added that he had requested the Buckeye State Sheriff’s Association provide outside investigators to look into the situation.
“This investigation remains ongoing. I am confident in the fact that I have never been involved in any type of coverup, and at the conclusion of the investigation I will act upon the facts and evidence that was or was not produced,” he said. “Everyone involved in this situation should be afforded due process, so I ask that the public be patient as the investigation is conducted.”