The mother of a 15-year-old fatally struck by a Kansas City postal van in 2020 was awarded a $3 million wrongful death judgment on Tuesday.
Judge Fernando Gaitan Jr., of the Western District of Missouri, determined U.S. Postal Service employee Shaniel Barnes acted negligently when she crashed into 15-year-old Tony E. White, who was on his bicycle across the street from Kansas City’s East High School.
The judge awarded the mother, Cheri Williams, nearly $1 million in calculated economic damages, which took her loss of income into account. Another $2 million was awarded as compensation for her pain and suffering.
On July 1, 2020, Barnes had recently driven out of the James Crews station at 2201 E. Truman Road toward her postal route. White was struck by her vehicle on East 20th Street near Denver Avenue.
Kansas City police investigated the crash. They determined Barnes struck the side of the teenager’s bike with the front of her van.
Detectives also saw signs of distracted driving at the scene, including a lack of skid marks on the roadway. His body was dragged about 40 feet before the van stopped.
Evidence presented during a civil trial in June led Judge Gaitan to conclude Barnes was on the phone and otherwise driving without due care when she struck the teenager. Lawyers for the postal service argued that the 15-year-old was at fault by entering the roadway on his bike.
In drawing his conclusions, Judge Gaitan noted that adult drivers are — as a matter of law — held to a different standard than minors on bicycles. He determined “that the evidence does not show Tony White was at fault.”
“To the contrary, the evidence supports that Tony may have been trying to avoid hitting the van by turning to his side,” Gaitan wrote.
Barnes was later accused of making false statements to police and her supervisor. In one written statement submitted as evidence in the trial, a supervisor for Barnes recalled she reported striking a bicycle but said she did not hit a person.
In 2008, White was adopted along with his older brother by Williams, who previously cared for them as a foster parent. During the trial, Williams testified that the family went through extensive therapy and later moved — as they frequently faced the street where her son died, a short distance from their home.