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Settlement paid to family of moped driver killed after hitting Isle of Palms police car

Isle of Palms Police (File)

A settlement was reached Wednesday in the wrongful death case of 51-year-old Phil Wallace, according to the family's attorney.

Wallace's wife, Naomi, filed a civil suit against defendant Robert Abel and the City of Isle of Palms for gross negligence.

Wallace was killed while driving his moped across the IOP Connector 18 months ago.

Around 5:15 a.m. on October 13, 2016, Wallace was riding his moped from the Isle of Palms back to his home in Mount Pleasant. It was dark outside.

Attorneys for Wallace's wife said they believe Wallace pulled into the right lane to let a box truck pass.

But when he did, he ran into the back of one of two IOP patrol cars parked on the shoulder. The patrol cars did not have any blue lights, hazard or emergency lights flashing. That impact didn't kill Wallace; 60 seconds later, he was run over by an oncoming car, driven by Robert Abel.

Motley Rice attorney Kevin Dean said the case was handled poorly from the beginning.

"When you have an accident like this that causes death, you should immediately impound vehicles, everyone involved in the circumstance should have a blood test run to make sure there's no issue with alcohol or drugs," said Dean. "None of that was done in this case."

Dean said the officers should have done more to protect Wallace from oncoming traffic.

South Carolina Highway Patrol investigated the accident but did not find the city or police department at fault.

Wallace's wife finally received a written apology from the police department during the settlement hearing on Wednesday.

"It was a sincere letter and it may be a little too late," Dean said. "Mrs. Wallace may not have ever pursued anything initially had people apologized and that's one of the biggest things she's not had in this case is an apology."

Wallace will receive a six-figure settlement, totaling some $750,000. Both Dean and Wallace said it's not about the money; no amount can be placed on human life. Instead, negotiations were contingent upon an apology and policy changes within the IOP Police Department. Both provisions were met.

"An official change in policy where no Isle of Palms officer can ever park on that bridge at night or early morning hours and another death happen like Mr. Wallace lost his life," Dean said.

According to the South Carolina Tort Claims Act, the city was only liable to pay out $300,000, but chose to settle for a higher amount--$450,000. Settlement terms also grant a $300,000 payment from Abel's insurance company.

Desirée Fragoso, interim city administrator with The Isle of Palms, released a statement about the settlement Wednesday:

The lawsuit by the Estate of Wallace was settled with the participation of the South Carolina Municipal Insurance Risk Financing Fund which employs trained claims staff and experienced attorneys.

Although the City of Isle of Palms did not agree with the allegations of the plaintiff, lawsuits are sometimes compromised if a result can be obtained that is reasonable for all involved.

Here a settlement was reached which did not require any contribution from the City of Isle of Palms or the police officers.

The trained claims professionals and attorneys believed a compromise was the best resolution of this matter. Four Hundred and Fifty Thousand Dollars is being paid by the South Carolina Risk Financing Fund. Because there is no financial contribution from City Council, the settlement was effective upon approval by the Court which occurred on June 20, 2018.

No action is required by City Council.

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