ORLANDO (CN) – A woman who was injured with her child and grandchild as they tried to flee their car before a collision has sued the Lakeland Ledger newspaper for defamation. The newspaper called her a “reckless and irresponsible” driver.
But Darlene Washington says she and her daughter were fleeing their car, with the infant, to try escape before the impact. They did not make it.
Washington says the newspaper story affected her professional life, as she is a school bus driver. The accident happened on Feb. 6 as Washington slowed to turn into a gas station. With her in the car was her 17-year-old daughter, Carnetha Culpepper, and Culpepper’s infant.
Washington says that as they pulled into a Chevron station, a speeding car approached from behind. Culpepper saw that the car was about to run into them so she “unfastened the restraints in an attempt to carry the infant out of the vehicle to safety before the impact,” according to the complaint in Orange County Court.
Culpepper did not make it out in time and the infant was thrown from the vehicle. Culpepper and Washington also were seriously injured.
Nobody witnessed the wreck, and police determined that Washington had not been at fault, though she was cited for failing to restrain an infant.
The Lakeland Ledger published several articles about the accident, claiming Washington and Culpepper had not securely restrained the infant. The reporters called the incident “preventable” and said that Washington “did not stop for oncoming traffic,” though her car had been hit from behind.
Washington says she has been ostracized by co-workers as a result of the Ledger’s coverage. She says she and her daughter have been “shunned and avoided by others on a continuous basis,” and people have “further defame(d) Washington on various message boards of the Lakeland Ledger website.”
Culpepper says she has been verbally and physically abused at school.
They seek punitive damages for invasion of privacy and defamation. They also sued reporters Shoshana Walter and Jeremy Maready. They are represented by Philip Bartlett.