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Trial will try to fix responsibility in traffic death

Assigning blame for a traffic fatality is never easy. But the case that a civil jury is set to hear here next week is more puzzling than most.

Harry D. Mathuse died in April 1990 after a car struck him as he walked across U.S. 19 in Crystal River. That collision occurred as Mathuse was returning to the scene of another car accident he was involved in minutes earlier, court records showed.

So who should be held responsible in the legal arena? The man who struck Mathuse on the highway? The woman involved with Mathuse in the initial accident? The people who owned the cars those two were driving? Some combination of the four?

Mathuse's widow, Adelphia, filed a lawsuit last year seeking more than $10,000. On Monday, after nearly a year of haggling and discussion of legal issues, lawyers will take the case to trial.

Proceedings are scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. Monday at the new courthouse in Inverness. Circuit Judge William Edwards will preside.

The series of accidents occurred between 2 and 3 p.m. April 23, 1990, on U.S. 19 just north of W Cedar Street, court records showed.

Mathuse, 67, was driving south on U.S. 19 and prepared to pass Gladys Johnston, who was in the right lane, records state. As he was passing, Johnston checked her mirrors, moved into the left lane and collided with Mathuse.

The two pulled onto a grass median and talked. Both apparently agreed that the accident was minor.

They agreed that Mathuse would walk to a nearby convenience store to call authorities and report the accident, according to records.

He did that. As he returned to the median, though, he was struck in the southbound lane by a 17-year-old driver, William Curry. Mathuse died from the injuries he suffered in the accident, records showed.

Mrs. Mathuse filed suit against Johnston in March. Also named as a defendant was Wilmer R. Young, who owned the car Johnston was driving, court records showed.

Johnston denied legal culpability and actually pointed a finger at Mathuse. Johnston said Mathuse's own negligence contributed to his death.

In the same document, Johnston filed a complaint of her own against Curry and Sandra S. Shields, who owned the car Curry was driving. In other words, she said the liability must be spread around and not pinned solely on her.

Either way, the defendants have claimed Mathuse may have been partly responsible.

In a court document, they pointed out that Mathuse was deaf in his left ear and could not hear Curry approaching him; was careless when he crossed U.S. 19; was distracted because he needed to arrange for his granddaughter to be picked up from school; and was under the influence of codeine from a medication he had taken earlier.

Mrs. Mathuse seeks the value of lost support and services, as well as damages for loss of companionship, mental pain and suffering and medical and funeral expenses.

Mrs. Mathuse's attorney, Wayne C. McCall of Ocala, did not return a telephone message Friday.