Family's wrongful death lawsuit against W.Va. National Guard lingers on
By KATHY PLUM | The Dominion Post | Published: August 2, 2018
KINGWOOD, W.Va. (Tribune News Service) — Six years after Gaitlin Jones died, his family’s lawsuit against the Mountaineer ChalleNGe Academy (MCA) and West Virginia National Guard is still in the courts.
Jones was 17 when he attended the academy, based at Camp Dawson and run by the Guard. He left July 18, 2012, and his body was found July 30, near the Cheat River.
In Preston Circuit Court Tuesday, attorneys for Jones’ father, George Jones, the Guard and MCA tentatively agreed to an April 2019 trial date.
Preston Judge Steve Shaffer has taken over the case, which previously was assigned to Senior Status Judge Robert Stone, after then-Preston Judge Lawrance Miller Jr. recused himself because of a possible conflict of interest.
The academy, in Preston County, is a free, 22-week, quasi-military, residential program for academically challenged West Virginia high school students.
As previously reported, attorneys for George Jones said MCA should have known his son was at risk if he left the grounds. The cadet was allergic to bee stings, had recently had an asthma attack, had been at a hospital for high blood pressure and was given Valium, and had a friend who recently committed suicide, making him a suicide risk, they said.
The lawsuit originally named Preston Memorial Hospital as a defendant as well. The hospital has been dismissed from the suit. Charles “Rusty” Webb, attorney for Jones, said he likely will ask that the Guard be dropped from the suit as well, because it and the ChalleNGe Academy are basically the same.
Webb said some “rather significant” information obtained lately led attorneys to believe more discovery is needed in the case.
Judge Shaffer set hearings for Feb. 11, 2019, and March 11, 2019, to consider matters before trial. He also ordered a second attempt at mediation.
The parties were not able to reach a settlement in mediation earlier this year. Webb said the case would be “ripe again” for mediation after discovery ends. Discovery is the process during which attorneys interview potential witnesses, exchange information and request documents.
Webb said as many as 100 witnesses are named for the case, but that could change as the process continues.
The Guard and MCA were represented by attorneys Gary Pullin and Christopher Ross at Tuesday’s hearing.