More Lawsuits Filed

August 1, 2007       Mark Hrywna      

There are now 12  lawsuits seeking $85 million in connection with a Tennessee charity’s fatal fundraising car show this past June.

Ronald Griswell, whose teen daughters Raven Leann and Nicole Charm were killed in the accident, filed two lawsuits. The first seeks $5 million in damages and $15 million in punitive damages. It was filed against the driver, Troy Warren Critchley; Cars for Kids-Southern Style Inc. and its president and founder Larry Price; and AMS Staff Leasing Inc., which owns the car. The second suit was filed against the city of Selmer and seeks compensatory damages of “a fair and reasonable amount,” and court costs.

Bruce Replogle, the father of 15-year-old victim Scarlett, filed the first lawsuit related to the accident, which seeks $10 million in damages.

In all, six people were killed and more than 20 were injured in the June 16 car show in Selmer, Tenn., less than 100 miles east of Memphis. A 1993 modified Corvette lost control during an exhibition burnout, in which the car spins its tires while stationary, on a public street and careened into a crowd of people.

Price, in an interview with The NonProfit Times, indicated the charity he founded 18 years ago did not have insurance for the event. There’s also been some question as to whether the city had approved parade permits for the festival, which annually draws some 50,000 people.

Cars for Kids-Southern Style also had not registered with the state’s Division of Charitable Solicitations and Gaming. Its application for registration was denied last month because the summary of financial activities did not match the figures in its Form 990, said Todd Kelley, director of the Division of Charitable Solicitations and Gaming.

If a nonprofit is soliciting in Tennessee, it must either register with the state or file for exemption, Kelley said. Once the registration issue is resolved, he said the next step, if Cars for Kids wishes to continue soliciting, would be to review its previous activities and determine any disciplinary action.

Kelley said the charity also submitted to him its Form 990s from 2003 to 2006. According to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) spokesman Dan Boone, the last return the federal agency has on file from Cars for Kids is from 2002.

Cars for Kids files with the IRS as a private foundation. The 2002 form indicates about $94,000 in revenue and $80,000 in expenses, which includes $48,000 in grants disbursed to some 16 organizations. The organization listed almost $48,000 in net assets. Kevin Redmon, listed as the preparer on the charity’s 2006 Form 990 submitted to Kelley, did not return a phone call by presstime.

Criminal charges are not out of the question but the investigation is still weeks from being completed. The Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) has interviewed more than 100 witnesses and a blood sample came back negative on the driver, according to a spokesman for the THP.

There’s also some question as to whether Cars for Kids needed some type of approval since the parade of cars occurred on a public street, U.S. Highway 64/Mulberry Avenue. Price said the organization didn’t need approval, while the lawsuit alleges that he failed to apply to the city for a required parade permit. The suit also claims former and current local elected officials refused permission for a permit in the past because of safety concerns.

“I hope our long-term relationship with Cars for Kids will continue, but careful evaluations and stricter precautions for public safety will be mandated,” said Selmer Mayor David Robinson as part of a statement released after the accident. He did not return messages by presstime.

The lawsuits ask for an injunction to bar Cars for Kids from staging future events in Selmer without appropriate requests, for a written plan of activities and an appropriate safety plan. They also ask that Price be required to “establish that he is in fact a charitable organization and demonstrate where the proceeds of these funds have gone in the past and will go.”

The week after the tragedy, the Cars for Kids Web site, www.carsforkidsusa.org, saw 41,000 hits, compared to the 200 to 500 hits a week it usually gets, Price said. Money is still coming in, he said, with feedback since the accident overwhelmingly positive. He said the racing team paid for the victims’ funerals and a Cars for Kids Victim Fund raised $10,000 within a week of the accident.

Price expects to continue organizing the car shows. A list of scheduled events on the Cars for Kids Web site indicates several more shows this year in Tennessee, Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas. Most organizers of the local car shows declined to comment for this story. Gene Church, who organizes a September car show in Harrisburg, Ill., said the event will go as planned, with the exception of burnouts. Not all the shows indicated that burnouts would take place.

“That was one freak accident, we don’t know why, no one knows but the good Lord above,” Price said. People have spent their own money to raise funds for a good cause, he said, and “now everyone wants to run this into the ground. It’s the devil trying to run us into the ground. The driver didn’t come here to do that.

“Do people want us to keep doing this or want do they want the devil to win out on one accident in 18 years?,” Price said. “I don’t have to do this, I can sit at home,” but handicapped and abused kids still need help, he said, adding that he made a promise to dying children to keep it going. Price founded Cars for Kids as a promise whis 12-year-old son, Chad, lay in a hospital bed as a result of a bicycle accident. His prayer promised that if his son was able to live he would donate the rest of his life to raising money to help kids who were injured, handicapped or in financial need. Since its inception in 1990, Cars for Kids has raised more than $2 million for charities, including St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Muscular Dystrophy Association and Easter Seals. According to its Web site, the group raises more than $200,000 annually.  NPT