Jury deliberations resume in drag-racing case

mgordon@charlotteobserver.comMay 8, 2013 

Jury deliberations resumed at 2 p.m. Wednesday in the $15 million negligence lawsuit filed against Crescent Resources by the families of three killed near one of the company’s developments in 2009.

The six-man, six-woman panel got the case late Tuesday afternoon after more than two weeks of testimony, including that from a front-seat witness to the fatal crash on April 4, 2009, that killed Winthrop University professor Cindy Furr, her 2-year-old daughter Mackie, and 13-year-old Hunter Holt.

The wreck occurred after two cars set off on a drag race on N.C. 49 below Steele Creek. The wild dash race ended when the Mitsubishi Eclipse driven by Tyler Stasko slammed into Furr’s Mercedes as she turned right onto the highway from Riverpointe Drive.

Stasko and the driver of the other car, Carlene Atkinson, are serving prison terms.

Now the jury must decide whether Crescent played a role in the wreck by not installing a promised traffic signal at the intersection. In return, the developer got permission to build the massive Palisades community across N.C. 49.

Crescent attorney Greg York said reckless actions of Stasko and Atkinson caused the deaths, not the absence of the signal. Traffic studies done by the company showed that the light was not yet needed. One has since been installed.

Fred DeVore and Amanda Mingo, who are representing the families, countered that Crescent failed to make good on the promised signal despite the requests of state and county highway officials. Residents of the area had also raised frequent safety concerns, particularly after the highway was widened and Crescent expanded the entrance into the Palisades.

DeVore and Mingo said the light may have stopped the accident. Stasko would have seen the signal a half mile away, according to earlier testimony. Even at the high speed at which he was traveling, the lawyers argued, he would have had time to slow.

Before leaving the courtroom to decide the case, the jury heard testimony from Rex Thomas of Clover, S.C. Four years ago, the teen was an 11-year-old front-seat passenger in Stasko’s car.

Rex, now 15, was Crescent’s last witness. The company’s legal team played a video of his pre-trial deposition in the courtroom on Tuesday.

In it, the teen talked about how he and Hunter Holt had spent the day at Carowinds, eventually meeting up with two female friends of Hunter’s, one of them the daughter of Carlene Atkinson.

Around 5 p.m., Rex called his mother to come pick the boys up. She told him she was sending a family friend instead, Tyler Stasko.

His purple-and-black Eclipse was waiting when the boys left the park. Rex said he got in the front seat, Hunter climbed in the back. Stasko had his stereo booming out hip-hop from the group Insane Clown Posse. The windows were down. The car headed left the park toward N.C. 49.

Waiting at the traffic signal at Shopton Road, Rex said he saw a black Camaro pull up behind them. It was the same one he’d seen the girls climb into at Carowinds, and it belonged to Carlene Atkinson.

Rex also said he turned to see Hunter, his arm out of the window, thrusting a middle finger at the black car. One of the girls, he said, was returning the gesture.

Up to now, Rex said, Stasko had been driving conservatively, sticking to the speed limit and stopping at every light. But when the Shopton signal changed, the Eclipse screeched off. The Camaro followed. The race was on.

Rex said the Mitsubishi was soon roaring south between 80 and 90 mph and reached 100 mph or more.

A minute into the sprint the two cars crested a small hill near the entrance to the Palisades. That’s when Rex said he first saw the Mercedes. He said the driver had turned onto N.C. 49.

He couldn’t see the woman’s face, he said, because she was looking the other way.

Gordon: 704-358-5095

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