Taplin faces civil suit

Family asks for damages for fatal hit-and-run

Posted: Monday, August 13, 2001

The family of Harry Carlson, a federal biologist who died from injuries suffered during a hit-and-run accident, has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the driver, Joel Taplin.

On July 21, 1999, Taplin, who authorities said had been drinking, struck Carlson with his car and drove away from the scene after Carlson fell off the hood. Carlson died about six hours later at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

Taplin, now 29, was found guilty in May 2000 of felony failure to stop and render immediate aid, and of drunken driving. He was sentenced to five years in prison with two years suspended. He is imprisoned at the Arizona Correctional Center in Florence and could be released as early as Dec. 15, Alaska state corrections officials said.

Carlson's wife, Shirley, and son Lloyd are asking for more than $50,000 in damages, claiming emotional distress and loss of earnings caused by the death of Carlson, a biologist at the National Marine Fisheries Service's lab at Auke Bay.

Attorney Anthony Sholty, representing the Carlsons, said Taplin has not yet responded to the complaint, which was filed on July 19 in Juneau Superior Court. Taplin has 20 days to respond from the time the complaint is served. If he doesn't respond, the court could award damages to the Carlsons by default.

Sholty said he did not know whether Taplin had been served notice of the suit yet.

Taplin, a teacher from New England, was in Juneau the summer of 1999 taking classes at Middlebury College's Bread Loaf School of English on the University of Alaska Southeast campus. He was driving on Back Loop Road when he struck the back of Carlson's parked truck and then hit Carlson, who was standing next to the truck.

Carlson suffered a "complete fracture of the vertebra in his neck, broken ribs, fractured pelvis, broken right femur, tibia, and humerus, two dislocated shoulders, dislocated left thigh, lacerations and a severe contusion in his right lung," the complaint said.

The incident took place near the driveway to Carlson's home. According to the complaint, not only were Carlson's wife and only son "aware of the accident almost immediately after it happened," but Carlson was conscious after the accident and realized the extent of his injuries.

"Dr. Carlson survived the initial impact of the car and was conscious and cognizant of the injuries he suffered and of his imminent death," the complaint said. "He suffered great anxiety, mental anguish, emotional distress, and physical suffering as a direct result of the defendant's recklessness."

According to the complaint, because the Carlson family witnessed the accident scene as well as the aftermath, they also have suffered "extreme grief, anguish, and emotional distress." Family members also are deprived of Carlson's earnings, the complaint notes.

Melanie Plenda can be reached at mplenda@juneauempire.com.

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