Families filing civil suits in Knox hit-and-run that killed 3

Families filing civil suits in Knoxville hit-and-run that killed 3

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By STEPHANIE BEECKEN
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Families are filing civil suits in the Northeast Knoxville hit-and-run that killed three people.

Nelzon Soto was killed along with Chasity Thornell and her unborn child on May 30 on Washington Pike.

Curtis Scott Harper, 22, was arrested on multiple charges including vehicular homicide, DUI and leaving the scene of an accident.

Now the victims' families are seeking justice in criminal court and with civil suits.

According to Thornell's family's attorney, they will soon file a wrongful-death lawsuit.

Soto's family has already filed a lawsuit naming Harper, his parents and a Knoxville bar called The Hill.

The 16-page suit was filed by Elbia Hercules, the widow of Nelzon Soto. The Soto family's attorney, Greg Isaacs, says Soto was killed after he brought gasoline to a woman whose vehicle had stalled off the roadway near Washington Pike.

"Such a senseless tragedy when you go out at 2:00 in the morning and help some young ladies put gas in their car and you are being thanked by a hug and you are hit and drug by an SUV that doesn't even take the time to stop," Isaacs said.

Hercules is seeking $10 million in damages. Curtis Harper is listed first as a defendant. According to the suit, Harper was driving under the influence, failed to stop and fled the scene.

Harper's parents, Herb and Pam Harper, are also listed as defendants.

Isaacs says the vehicle Curtis Harper was driving is owned by his parents.

"We have alleged that under the theory of negligent entrustment that they should have known that there was a problem in providing a vehicle to their son based on his history of drug or alcohol abuse," Isaacs explained.

Records show Curtis Harper was convicted of DWI in North Carolina in 2009. He was arrested on a drug related charge in Knox County last year, but that was dismissed.

The lawsuit claims Harper was drinking at The Hill through the evening and early morning hours before the hit-and-run.

"We've alleged, based on information that we have received, that he was served basically when he should not have been served," Isaacs said.

The attorney says it's unlawful to serve a patron who is obviously intoxicated and the establishment can be held liable.

6 News contacted The Hill. The owner responded with this statement:

"The staff and management of The Hill, LLC regret the untimely death of Mr. Nelzon Soto, Chastity Thornell and Ms. Thornell's unborn daughter.

However, the staff and management of The Hill, LLC categorically deny that they had any role in these tragic and untimely deaths. They also categorically deny that the party allegedly responsible for the accident was 'over-served' at The Hill, LLC or that he was impaired when he was served there. The management of The Hill, LLC has a strict policy against 'over-serving' of patrons and 'over-serving' has never been a 'pattern and practice' of The Hill, LLC.

While overblown claims from plaintiff's lawyers are extremely easy to make, the real facts of this case will be heard in a court of law and we are confident of our vindication in that forum."

Thornell's family has hired attorney Gary Dawson. He says the Thornells will file a civil suit by the end of August. They're waiting on the final autopsy reports and the investigative report from the Knox County District Attorney General's Office before moving forward.

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