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Article from Bertie Ledger Advance; Vol. 76 – No. 6 February 8th, 2006

Lawsuit is largest ever in Bertie Co.

Victim’s Family awarded $1.75 million by jury

By Jay Jenkins

Windsor – The thought of a little boy growing up without his daddy played a large role in the lead counsel’s effort in winning the largest lawsuit in Bertie County history last week.

Lloyd Smith, attorney with Pritchett and Burch, PLLC of Windsor, said he and co-counsel Mitchell S. McLean (of Ahoskie) were very delighted the jury awarded the family of Franklin Tracy Byrum the sum of $1.75 million.

“This won’t bring Tracy back,” Smith said. “But it will perhaps make the life of his wife, Missy, and son, Perry, a little brighter.”

Tracy Byrum died April 20, 2004 as a result of a car accident that occurred at the intersection of US 17 and NC 45.

Byrum was on his way home from work and as he approached the intersection at about 5:20 p.m., the light turned green.

“As Byrum started through the intersection, his vehicle was struck by a transfer truck running approximately 55 to 60 miles per hour,” Smith said. “We were able to show the jury that the driver of that truck, Chonbrey Torneeka Armstrong, was guilty of going too fast and guilty of careless and reckless driving which ultimately took the life of this fine young husband and father.”

Smith said he had the opportunity to get to know Byrum’s wife, Melissa (Missy), and their now 5-year-old son, Perry, during the many months of working the case.

“They are some wonderful people,” Smith said. “Tracy was an outstanding husband and a wonderful father.

“During the trial, many friends came to testify and it says great things about Tracy that so many thought so much of him,” he added.

During the seven-day trial, Smith and McLean brought witnesses to the stand as they recreated the night Tracy died.

One of those witnesses was Artie Nixon who was able to testify how fast she saw the truck traveling when it struck Byrum’s vehicle and that brake lights never came on.

Through the reconstruction of the scene Sean Dennis of Accident Research Specialist, PLLC in Cary, Smith and McLean were able to give the jury a feeling of exactly what transpired as Tracy Byrum grasped for life as rescue workers, including Ricky White of Edenton, helped pull him from his vehicle; and how seconds became minutes and felt like hours as Ashley Futrell of Jamesville dialed in the 911 call.

“As far as this jury goes, they were extraordinarily attentive. I take my hat off to the jury,” Smith said. “They asked questions and they were really involved. Also, Trooper Steve Mize, of the Highway Patrol, did an excellent job.”

Working 12 hours a day continuously since Christmas, Smith said he and his co-counsel McLean had spent about a year and a half on the case.

“Tracy and Missy were so in love,” Smith said, “And there were lots of pictures and home movies of Tracy and his son. This family has received a tremendous loss.”

“I think about the times my daddy took me fishing and the many hours I spent being with him. I still love to do some those things to this day, but yet that has been taken from little boy and that can’t be replaced,” he added.

On record, this is the largest lawsuit handed down by a jury in Bertie County. About 20 years ago, a wrongful death suit was settled out of court for approximately $718,000.

It is also important to note that the Byrum lawsuit was not a settlement, but a verdict.

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