Jury Awards $4.8 Million to Victim of Crash Partially Caused by Sheriff’s Deputy

IDAHO CITY, Idaho — An Idaho jury has awarded more than $4.8 million to a woman injured in a U-turn accident after deciding it was partially caused by a sheriff’s deputy.

But the Idaho Statesman reports that Chellus Dawn Towell will receive only part of that amount due to a state law that caps judgments against public agencies at $500,000.

A jury found Boise County Deputy David Lee and Towell’s husband, Douglas, were equally at fault for the 2014 accident that threw Towell from the back of her husband’s motorcycle when Lee made a U-turn on Idaho Highway 21.

Investigators said Lee was driving a sheriff’s Ford Explorer south on the highway, and the Towells had been following him on their motorcycle for miles. When Lee saw a driver going the opposite direction who appeared to be speeding, he decided to go after the vehicle.

The Towells said Lee stopped suddenly and turned with no warning, forcing Douglas Towell to lay down his motocycle on the highway rather than go down a steep embankment. Chellus Towell wasn’t wearing a helmet and was in a coma for months.

Her mother said in an affidavit that Chellus had to relearn how to eat, walk and talk and will need care for the rest of her life.

Authorities say Douglas Towell tested positive for alcohol and marijuana after the crash. His blood alcohol level was .09, just above the legal limit of .08, the Statesman previously reported. He later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor DUI and misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance, court records show.

Attorneys for the county’s insurer, the Idaho Counties Risk Management Program, represented the county during the nearly two-week trial in February, Boise County Prosecutor Adam Strong told the Statesman Thursday. The county’s insurance will cover all but the $1,000 deductible, Strong said.

The deputy was in another U-turn accident on the same highway in 2016.

In that incident, Lee again attempted to make a turn to pursue a speeder when his sheriff’s Ford Explorer was struck by a 2010 Ford Escape driven by a 69-year-old Salmon resident who was airlifted to a hospital. Lee was transported by ground ambulance, and both were out of the hospital the next day.

Lee was cited for a traffic infraction involving a state law that requires drivers to make U-turns “safely and without interfering with other traffic” and fined $90, according to court documents.