Lawsuit alleges EMT shared crash photos
The EMT took photos, not for diagnostic or legitimate purposes, of the man with her cell phone and later circulated them throughout the community
The Charleston Gazette
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Jonathan Thomas' injuries were so severe his family kept a closed casket during his funeral.
When they found out an emergency medical technician had taken photographs of the 30-year-old UPS driver's body and shared the photos, they were heartbroken, said his mother, Darla Thomas.
Although there isn't a state law prohibiting taking photographs of corpses, a lawsuit filed by Thomas' family in Greenbrier Circuit Court against Quinwood Emergency Ambulance Inc. contends that family members have privacy rights that control the exploitation of deceased family members.
Jonathan Thomas' parents, Darla and Lowell Thomas Jr., and their daughter, Shena, filed the lawsuit against the ambulance company and Alderson resident Angel Willis, who allegedly took the photos.
Jonathan Thomas died last year after being stung by a bee. The impairments from the sting caused him to swerve his work — a UPS truck — into a home in Crawley, not far from his home in Rainelle. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
According to the lawsuit, Willis took photos — not for diagnostic or legitimate purposes — of the man with her cell phone. The photos were later circulated through the community with Willis' co-workers and others at New River Community and Technical Center.
"The offending photographs clearly depicted identifying features of Jonathan Thomas as well as his mortal wounds ... they were unsightly, intrusive and outside the bounds of decency," the lawsuit states.
No one was available to comment on the lawsuit on Friday at Quinwood's office in Rainelle. A working phone number for Willis could not be found. Depositions in the case are scheduled for October.
This wasn't the first time Willis had done something like this, according to the lawsuit.
While transporting the body of Caleb King from a hospital in Summers County to a Monroe County funeral home, Angel Willis and her husband, Jessie Willis, who was a driver for a funeral home, were accused of taking photographs of his body and distributing them, Darla Thomas said.
Prosecutors in Greenbrier County tried to press charges against Angel and Jessie Willis, but an indictment that had charged them with conspiracy to commit disinterment or displacement of a dead body were later dropped, according to an employee in the Greenbrier circuit clerk's office.
During this year's legislative session, Delegate George Ambler, R-Greenbrier, introduced a bill that would have made it illegal to take photos of corpses, except for legitimate postmortem examinations or criminal justice purposes.
The penalty proposed would have resulted in a misdemeanor charge and a fine between $50 and $500. It failed 11-9 during a committee vote.
When lawmakers were discussing the bill earlier this year, Darla Thomas said investigators told her family not to talk about it. But next year, her family will be in Charleston to support the bill.
"I want them to put a face with the bill and let them know what it's about. It's not just some kind of crazy bill," she said.
"I think people thought, 'Doesn't Charleston have bigger fish to fry?' I think they thought this is some kind of crazy bill and thought, 'who's taking pictures of dead people?' I don't think they realize this is an issue."
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