Death of Ore. teen who jumped from van spurs suit


The father of a psychiatric patient struck and killed by a sport utility vehicle on Interstate 84 seeks $3.4 million in a wrongful-death lawsuit.

Heather Williams, 18, a patient at the state-run Blue Mountain Recovery Center in Pendleton, was hit by the SUV after jumping from a Department of Human Services van on Dec. 13.

The Eugene-based attorney hired by Delno "Rick" Williams filed the lawsuit in Umatilla County Circuit Court against the state of Oregon, the state office for services to children and families, two Blue Mountain employees and the man who drove the SUV, the East Oregonian newspaper reported Sunday.

The parties in the suit either declined to discuss the case, or could not be reached for comment.

Williams jumped from the van as staff members John Jones and Renee Avenson were taking her to dinner in Hermiston. Avenson called 9-1-1 while Jones, the driver, tried to get Williams back in the van.

The SUV hit Jones and Williams. The teenager from Veneta died from internal injuries, and Jones broke his hand.

James Myrick-Duckett, an Oregon Department of Human Service investigator, later blamed the death on a "cumulative failure" of staff, management, programs and policies. He noted that staff didn't know how to properly secure the van with child safety locks, and the center hadn't provided training.

Williams had attempted something similar Dec. 5, when staff members took the talented pianist to Walla Walla, Wash., to get sheet music, according to a copy of a Blue Mountain internal incident report.

On that report, the on-duty supervisor wrote that staff should only "transport client in caged vehicle" with child-locking doors.

The suit alleges that those involved in transporting Williams Dec. 13 were negligent because they didn't put her in a vehicle with a cage. Moreover, it says Avenson should have sat at the back of the van to block Williams from getting out, and the workers could have done more to stop approaching vehicles.

The suit also cites a failure to "properly train and instruct employees in appropriate procedures" to keep Williams from jumping from moving vehicles, and says the SUV driver could have avoided the woman if he had been driving slower and paying more attention.

Williams wants the defendants to pay $2.5 million in non-economic damages and $940,000 to make up for his daughter's future earnings.


Information from: East Oregonian,

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