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Confusion and Conflicting Statements

Lawsuits filed in fatal car accident involving Herenton's daughter-in-law.



Three lawsuits filed last week challenge the Memphis police investigation and report of a fatal car accident one year ago involving Andrea Herenton, daughter-in-law of Memphis mayor Willie Herenton and wife of Rodney Herenton.

The accident occurred on May 29, 2003, near the intersection of Interstates 55 and 240. Prior to the fatal impact, Andrea Herenton's 1999 Porsche Carrera made contact with Michael D. Simon's 1995 Ford Taurus after he changed lanes. Simon, 30, of Memphis, was killed after his car veered across the interstate median and collided with two other vehicles. None of the surviving drivers was ticketed for a moving violation. A Police Department memorandum indicates the investigation was given "highest priority" because it "would be viewed by numerous individuals, including possibly the mayor."

In a lawsuit filed against Andrea and Rodney Herenton in federal court in Memphis, Simon's mother, Carolyn Watson, seeks $2 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages. The suit says negligence on the part of Andrea Herenton caused the accident. "There is a question as to whether there was an objective investigation because of who was involved," said Watson's attorney, R. Lanier Fogg. Simon was tested postmortem for alcohol and drugs. Results were negative. No one else was tested.

In a second lawsuit filed in Circuit Court, Marshell Corum of Germantown sues Andrea and Rodney Herenton and Simon's estate. It says both Simon and Herenton were negligent. Corum was driving a 2002 Cadillac Seville which was struck by Simon's car. She suffered neck, back, and leg injuries, and her lawsuit seeks $1.5 million in damages. A third lawsuit was filed in Circuit Court by Marietta Corum and Tracy Corum of Germantown, who were passengers in the car driven by Marshell Corum. It also names the Herentons and Simon's estate as defendants and seeks $1.5 million in damages.

According to a police report taken five hours after the accident, Andrea Herenton, 35, said she was driving alone at the 55-mile-an-hour speed limit and had not had any alcohol or drugs or prescription medicine the day of the accident, nor was she using a cell phone. Herenton told police she was on her way home, going west on I-240 in the left lane, when "a car in the center lane hit me on the right side. I swerved to the median. I think the other vehicle accelerated into the eastbound lanes." She said the car struck the right corner of her Porsche, causing the airbags to deploy.

In a second police report taken two days later, Andrea Herenton said that Simon's car was crossing from the center lane into her lane when it "came out of nowhere" and struck her. "The car was being driven so fast I couldn't see the driver," she said.

In their lawsuits, the Corums allege that both Herenton and Simon "were operating their vehicles in an unsafe manner and at a high rate of speed, such that a violent collision occurred between the two vehicles. ... The Simon vehicle crossed the interstate, struck a trailer being towed by one Robert Burrows, and then became angled across Interstate 55 southeast lanes where it struck or was struck" by Corum's car. Burrows told police he saw out of the corner of his eye Simon's car coming at an angle toward his trailer, go up in the air as it came off the median, and then felt it hit his trailer and blow out the tires.

Watson's lawsuit gives a different version. It says Simon was in the left lane, not the center lane, and Herenton "drove her vehicle into the rear of Michael Simon's Taurus" and the impact forced Simon's car into oncoming traffic. Photographs show heavy damage to the right front of Herenton's Porsche. Roy Cook, who said he was driving in the center lane going the same direction as Herenton and Simon, told police the accident "happened within arms reach of the left side of my car."

"I glanced to my left, saw a Porsche, saw the nose of the Porsche, then the collision, metal tearing all at the same instant," he said in a police report. "The hitting car [Porsche] impaled the other car and they continued stuck together approximately 100 feet. The car that was stuck broke free, crossed the median, flipping at least three times in the median and then struck something in the median, flipped again, and landed in the opposing lanes."

Questions have been raised about Cook's account. He said he called 911 twice and reported the accident but did not go back and make a statement because traffic was backed up behind him. He phoned the Traffic Division the next day but, due to missed appointments or miscommunication, did not give his statement until June 24th, several days after giving media interviews. Other witnesses interviewed at the scene said a car cut in front of the Porsche, but it was a brown or taupe Cadillac. n

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