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Traffic accident victim sues New Port Richey

Terry Wayland was heading south on Grand Boulevard at this intersection with Main Street when another driver made a left turn into Wayland’s path, smacking his motorcycle. His suit against New Port Richey says the alignment of the intersection makes it unsafe.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

Terry Wayland was heading south on Grand Boulevard at this intersection with Main Street when another driver made a left turn into Wayland’s path, smacking his motorcycle. His suit against New Port Richey says the alignment of the intersection makes it unsafe.

NEW PORT RICHEY — Terry Wayland went out for a ride on his motorcycle one evening in May 2007, cruising through downtown's picturesque streets.

As he headed south on Grand Boulevard at the intersection with Main Street, another driver made a left turn into Wayland's path, smacking his bike.

Wayland, a 45-year-old middle school PE teacher, suffered grave injuries and eventually lost his left leg below the knee.

Last week he filed suit over his injuries — not against the other driver, who was faulted in the crash, but the city of New Port Richey.

The lawsuit alleges that the intersection of Grand and Main, which was redesigned in the mid-1990s as part of a downtown beautification project, creates a "clear hazard and dangerous condition." The through lane on Grand, the suit says, runs into the left turn lane.

"A vehicle turning left from Grand Boulevard onto Main Street is already in the right-of-way of the vehicle heading straight southbound on Grand Boulevard in the through lane," the suit says.

Jawdet Rubaii, Wayland's Clearwater attorney, said the intersection is so badly designed that "normal driving still results in a terrible accident."

"I feel it's a fairly blatant defect," Rubaii said. "I don't feel it's a hidden thing. Intersections are cookie cutter."

Crash statistics for this intersection were not immediately available, but New Port Richey police say the corner is not a "high crash" spot and there are other intersections with more frequent crashes.

Rubaii said he sent the city a notice of intent to file a lawsuit — required before suing a government entity — but nothing came of it.

"They never mentioned any money. They took our interview and a statement, and we never heard anything from them," he said.

Should Wayland prevail in the lawsuit, the monetary damages would be capped at $100,000, Rubaii said. To collect anything above that amount, he would have to petition the state legislature.

City attorney Tom Morrison did not return a call seeking comment.

Tom O'Neill, who retired in May after 35 years with the city, said New Port Richey spent more than $3 million on the improvements downtown, which included ornamental street lights, drainage improvements and new sidewalks. Two engineering firms hired by the city redesigned several intersections, moved curbs and changed some turning radiuses.

O'Neill had not seen the lawsuit and would not comment on it. He left as city manager under state retirement plan rules but may yet be hired back by the City Council. He said the design changes were not dramatic and were considered improvements.

"Two-way traffic existed prior to the project. Two-way traffic existed after the project," he said.

Rubaii said Wayland collected a small auto insurance settlement after the accident, but "it's peanuts compared to losing a leg."

The sole of Wayland's left foot was peeled off in the crash, and he had the option of undergoing years of surgeries to repair the damage or amputation.

"We checked this out long and hard before we did this," Rubaii said of suing. "We feel strongly his leg would not be gone if not for that intersection."

Molly Moorhead can be reached at moorhead@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6245.

Traffic accident victim sues New Port Richey 07/18/09 [Last modified: Saturday, July 18, 2009 3:20pm]
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