Suit over PA man left to die in bushes after wreck returns to district court

David Yates Oct. 9, 2008, 5:58am

The death of Shanon Dean Hartley made news back in November 2004, when a homeowner found the man's decomposing body in a flowerbed a week after he had been in a car wreck.

Two years later, Hartley's father sued the city of Port Arthur, claiming the responding officer failed to thoroughly investigate the wreck scene, leaving their son to die in a bush.

Soon after the suit was filed, it was transferred to federal court. On Oct. 3 the suit returned to Judge Donald Floyd's 172nd District Court.

Court papers show that in the federal case in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas-Beaumont Division, Judge Thad Heartfield granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment on Oct. 31, 2007.

The motion was granted on grounds that the plaintiff never responded to the defense motion and "failed to provide evidence that there is a genuine issue as to any material fact in this case."

According to the original complaint in state court, on Nov. 4, 2004, Hartley, 33, was northbound on Tyrrell Street in Griffing Park when his Isuzu Trooper left the road and hit a tree on a city easement next to a private home.

The suit says the homeowner notified the Port Arthur Police Department, "but PAPD did not immediately respond."

When Officer Cooper arrived at the scene, he found the Isuzu empty but Hartley's wallet, keys and cell phone in the vehicle, the suit states.

"However, defendant failed to search the area for any possible victims or occupants of the vehicle," the plaintiff alleges.
Several days after the incident, Hartley's family filed a missing persons report.

"The PAPD still failed to search the area," the suit says. "A full week after the accident, the homeowner discovered the decedent's decomposing body in his flowerbed-less than 30 yards from the accident site."

Hartley's father, Joseph Hartley, filed his suit against the city and Officer G. Cooper on Nov. 3, 2006, alleging the city had planted the tree "dangerously close to the curb."

The suit also says Cooper, as a city law enforcement officer, violated Hartley's constitutional rights by failing to perform a proper and thorough investigation of the accident scene.

"Defendants' appallingly slow response … and indifferent investigation of the accident scene … were actions that shock the conscience in relation to any person's reasonable expectations of a citizen's constitutional right," the suit says.

"Defendants' actions directly and proximately caused decedent's suffering until his death, and eventual death."

The lawsuit does not specify a dollar amount, but noted Hartley earned $40,000 per year with a work expectancy of two more decades.

Hartley's father is suing for the loss of relationship with his son.

The plaintiffs are represented by San Antonio attorney Tracey McCormick.

The defendants are represented by attorney Frank Calvert of the Calvert & Eaves law firm.

Case No. E178-075

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