In a recent legal development, an Alachua County jury has rendered a $7.5 million verdict against Kokomo Key Properties Inc., operating as Swamp Car Wash, following a fatal shooting incident that occurred in May 2021. The lawsuit, filed in March 2022 by The Haggard Law Firm on behalf of Lonetta Carter, alleged negligence on the part of the car wash for failing to provide adequate security in a high-crime area.
Bobby Hopkins, 24, tragically lost his life on May 22, 2021, when he was shot in the chest outside the car wash at 912 E. University Ave. The lawsuit argued that Swamp Car Wash should have taken necessary precautions given the area's history of criminal activities, including shootings, assaults, batteries, drug sales, and robberies.
The Haggard Law Firm, representing Lonetta Carter, contended that a security expert recommended measures such as security cameras, fencing, and a gate, all of which the car wash has since implemented. The defense, however, asserted that Hopkins was engaged in dangerous criminal activities on the premises, suggesting he assumed the risk.
Despite the car wash's argument, the jury found 75% of the responsibility for Hopkins' death lay with Swamp Car Wash, with the remaining 25% attributed to Hopkins himself. The damages awarded included $3.75 million for each of Hopkins' two minor children, along with an additional $9,000 to cover funeral expenses.
Notably, surveillance footage from across the street revealed a potential interaction between Hopkins and the shooter, possibly influencing the jury's decision to assign partial blame to the victim.
In a related criminal trial, Eugene Javon Patrick, 24, was found guilty of second-degree murder in connection with Hopkins' death and subsequently sentenced to life in prison. Patrick had initially entered into a plea agreement, which he later sought to withdraw, proposing a no-contest plea to manslaughter with a firearm and a 15-year prison sentence.
This verdict underscores the legal responsibility of businesses to address security concerns in areas prone to criminal activities, emphasizing the importance of taking proactive measures to ensure the safety of customers and the community.