TIFTON -- A lawsuit filed in United States District Court claims that current and former Tift County employees and an elected official are responsible for a "cover-up" and destruction of evidence after a woman was killed two years ago on Salem Church Road. The plaintiff in the case is asking for a jury trial and a judgment of $5 million in punitive damages from each defendant named.

The lawsuit was filed in the Middle District of Georgia in the Valdosta Division of the U.S. District Court and names as defendants Tift County's government, former Tift County Commission Chairman Buddy Bryan, former Safety Coordinator and insurance claims liaison Tracy St. Amant, and Association of County Commissioners of Georgia claims adjuster Melanie Graham.

Amanda McDonald was killed in August 2003 when she lost control of her car on Salem Church Road. Her husband and executor of her estate, Jerry McDonald, filed suit locally against Roads and Public Works Director Harry Doss, county employee Richard Burr, County Engineer Kurt Seigler and employees Ken Marchant, Willie Stubbins and Jackie Copeland, all named as defendants in that local civil suit filed in September 2003. The local suit claims that the defendants are responsible for her death because they failed to maintain the road despite knowing that it was in deteriorating condition.

In the federal suit, McDonald charges that the defendants violated his and his wife's rights by their "deliberate indifference arising out of their investigation and conduct relating to the death of Amanda Katherine McDonald and the litigation."

The suit alleges that Bryan instructed people to use equipment owned by his company, Utilco, to pull McDonald's vehicle out of the woods after her husband and other members found it the next morning. The same day, the suit claims, St. Amant, Mike O'Quinn, an attorney representing Tift County in another case, Graham and Burr drove to the scene of the accident and anticipating litigation, "took steps to investigate the cause of the accident."

After the parties investigated the scene and took pictures as evidence, the suit claims, acting County Manager Roger Dill and Bryan made the decision that the road needed emergency paving and resurfacing work. The area of the road where the accident occurred was resurfaced on Aug. 27 or 28, 2003, after an accident reconstructionist investigated the scene, according to the suit.

The suit also alleges that Bryan, St. Amant, Tift County and Graham engaged in acts "which fostered an environment of lawlessness by Tift County" by "conspiring to and in cooperating in the environment in which Tift County, its elected officials and its representatives acted in disregard for existing laws and acted without authorization and authority."

Attorneys for the defendants, which could be assigned by the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia, have not yet been named since the suit is less than a month old.

Chief Superior Court Judge Gary McCorvey ruled in the Superior Court version of this suit that the county acted in bad faith and that their actions amount to destroying evidence or spoliation.

In the federal suit, McDonald is seeking damages for alleged violation of his liberty interests, access to justice, fraud and deceit, invasion of privacy, and punitive damages which he alleges to be in excess of $5 million from each defendant. He has asked for a jury trial.

No further information about the case was available at press time.

To contact city editor Angie Thompson, call 382-4321.

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