A drunken driver who killed a teenager on New Year’s Day has agreed to an unusual settlement of the lawsuit against him: He will pay $100 to the boy’s school every year on the anniversary of the teen’s death.
And he will do it for 14 years – once a year for every year of the dead boy’s life.
The settlement was the idea of Michael L. Goodove, a Norfolk lawyer who lost his own brother to a drunken driver in Charlottesville in 1990.
The settlement also gives $100,000 to the dead boy’s family, the maximum under the driver’s insurance policy, before lawyer fees are deducted. The $100-a-year payment is above and beyond the insurance.
Norfolk Judge John E. Clarkson approved the settlement Friday.
“I insisted on something from the driver personally,” said Goodove, who represents the dead boy’s family and is chairman of the local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. “It sends a message to him, it sends a message to other offenders, and it memorializes the victim.”
The victim was 14-year-old Ernest “Smokey” Hunt of Chesapeake, an articulate, well-liked honor student at Deep Creek Middle School. He was sleeping in the back of a car driven by his brother when a drunken driver plowed into the car’s rear, pinning the teen inside.
“He did everything right,” Goodove said. “He was an honor student, he was college-bound. By all indications, he was going to make it. Then a drunk driver got him.”
The accident happened at 3 a.m. New Year’s Day on Interstate 264 near the Berkley Bridge.
The drunken driver – Steve F. Morris, 23, of Chesapeake – pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and driving under the influence. He was sentenced to two years and 11 months in prison.
Morris had an extensive driving record, including four previous convictions for speeding and one for driving on a suspended license, Goodove said.
At Morris’ sentencing in August, Hunt’s relatives described the devastation the accident caused their family.
“My father just sits around thinking of things to do to get his mind off of Smokey,” said Hunt’s brother, Chantalle, in a written statement. “Most of the time my dad keeps to himself. That hurts knowing how he feels. . . It is hard living in a house that nobody wants to be in. I had plans to move out, but now I’m scared to.”
The boy’s mother, Edna R. Floyd, wrote, “There is no more joy and laughter in my household, only the pain and lots of tears. My family is very, very afraid that I die, too, because my pain is so great. My husband watches over me at night so that I will not hurt myself.”
Teachers wrote about what an extraordinary student Ernest was. He was a member of the National Junior Honor Society and the school’s XLR-8 team.
“He was a very positive, upbeat young man who was willing to give of himself. Whenever anything needed to be done, he volunteered,” wrote one teacher, V.E. Valentine.
“Ernest was a joy to teach and was an exemplary student,” wrote five teachers in the XLR-8 program. “Academically, Ernest maintained the honor roll every year of his life. He worked diligently to reap these honors. His polite and trusting manner brought a smile to the faces of his teachers.”
The boy’s future seemed bright. Last year, he wrote an upbeat poem about himself titled “Me.” In it, he described himself as “a young, ambitious black male” who feels sadness in the world but tries to “touch the hearts of everyone around me.”
“I dream every night I go to bed. I try to make the best out of life. I hope everything I want will soon be mine,” he wrote.
Hunt’s family sued Morris for the boy’s “wrongful death” in Norfolk Circuit Court. Normally, such cases are settled for whatever insurance is available.
In this case, however, Goodove insisted that Morris write a check to Hunt’s school every year on the anniversary of Hunt’s death, as a reminder to himself and the community of the teen’s life.
It is not known what the school will do with the money.
“My son believed that education was the key to success and to a bright future,” his mother wrote in June. “Therefore, I feel that part of Mr. Morris’ sentence should be to donate his income to Deep Creek Middle School, towards education so that we can have better people and less crime.”
Morris will write the first check on Jan. 1, 2000 – the first New Year’s Day that he will be free from prison.