City releases few details of investigation into deadly Ridgewood - WLBT.com - Jackson, MS

City releases few details of investigation into deadly Ridgewood Road accident

City communications manager Kai Williams said multiple departments are looking into the deadly crash which killed 18-year-old Jackson Academy student Frances Anne Fortner as she was driving along Ridgewood Road. Source: WLBT City communications manager Kai Williams said multiple departments are looking into the deadly crash which killed 18-year-old Jackson Academy student Frances Anne Fortner as she was driving along Ridgewood Road. Source: WLBT
JACKSON, MS (WLBT) -

While the focus remains on the City of Jackson as hundreds wait for answers to Thursday's deadly crash involving an unsecured manhole, officials are releasing very little information about any potential findings to the public.

"This tragedy continues to weigh heavily on our hearts. I would like to again extend my sincere condolences to each person that Miss Frances Fortner's life has touched," said Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba in a second statement released late Friday evening. "I want to reassure our citizens that we are actively investigating this accident and will provide more information as soon as it becomes available."

City communications manager Kai Williams said multiple departments are looking into the deadly crash which killed 18-year-old Jackson Academy student Frances Anne Fortner as she was driving along Ridgewood Road.

"We don’t want to say anything or overstep; we're just going to wait and see what happens with the results of the investigation," said Williams. "Everybody's looking to do their part to try and figure out what happened, what could have possibly happened."

Reports from witnesses said the manhole cover had turned to a 90-degree angle, which caused Fortner's vehicle to flip upside down on impact.

Jackson Police Department Sgt. Roderick Holmes told 3 On Your Side that investigators there are focusing on the accident itself, using members of JPD's Accident Investigation Unit who are trained in reconstruction.

Holmes said those investigators spent a good deal of time on the scene Thursday, and the vehicle involved in the wreck is being held as evidence.

Three On Your Side left multiple messages with Jackson Public Works employees, asking to speak to director Robert Miller, but those requests for comment have gone unanswered.

"I believe what's happened is that [the city's legal department] has advised them not to say anything pending an investigation," said Williams.

One focus of the investigation will be the city's 311 call system, which comes in response to multiple residents who say they placed calls to 311 and 911 dispatch to warn the city of road hazards, including the one that killed Fortner.

As WLBT reported Thursday, a driver notified JPD and Public Works less than an hour before the deadly wreck.

Attorney Jay Kilpatrick said his client actually hit the manhole, too, but she survived.

"Very lucky, very fortunate," said Kilpatrick. "My client hit what’s believed to be the same manhole around 9:30 [Thursday] morning. Blew two tires. Contacted JPD. They arrived at the scene. The JPD officer saw the situation, got out and tried to remedy the manhole situation by putting it back in place as best she could."

Holmes could not corroborate Kilpatrick's claim but did say calls were received by the city's communications center, and employees also notified Public Works.

It's not clear if the officer's actions, while well-intentioned, could have led to the manhole cover malfunction that resulted in Fortner's death.

"It was raining when she hit it, so she did not see what she had hit until after she had gotten out and saw what was going on," added Kilpatrick.

Kilpatrick said he had been brought on as the unnamed client's attorney not because she intends to sue the city, but because she had become inundated with calls from JPD and the city after the deadly crash that followed her incident.

The lawyer said he simply wants to assist the Fortner family as they try to move forward.

Since the teenager's death, hundreds of people from the Jackson area have expressed their dismay, anger, and condolences over the situation on social media.

Several Facebook commenters believe the family should sue the city for negligence. Kilpatrick says there's one caveat to that.

"When you sue a municipality or an arm of the state, your sole remedy is $500,000 and it's capped," said Kilpatrick. "As the law stands right now with the Tort Claims Act, you cannot assess punitive damages against a municipality or an arm of the state."

Kilpatrick said Thursday's deadly crash should be a wake-up call to the Legislature to change that law because he doesn't think a half-million dollars sends a strong enough message to the city.

"Where's the incentive of the city of Jackson to go fix this stuff?" said Kilpatrick.

Ward 1 Councilman Ashby Foote told 3 On Your Side that he didn't want to comment on the city's responsibilities in the matter until the investigation has been completed.

However, Foote said he's already mentioned the 311 issue to Jackson officials.

"I have spoken to the mayor and [interim] chief of police about the importance of being responsive to 311 and 911 calls," Foote said. "They agree with that as well. We need to make sure our first responders and professional services are handled in a professional manner."

Copyright 2018 MSNewsNow. All rights reserved.

Powered by Frankly