$2.3 million settlement in Pigeon Forge Krystal sex assault case

Feb. 12, 2014 @ 03:43 PM

The owners of the Pigeon Forge Krystal franchise agreed Wednesday to pay $2.3 million to the family of a mentally disabled teen who was sexually assaulted in the restaurant by an employee who was a violent sex offender.

The victim was 16 years old when he went to the restaurant on Nov. 29, 2011. He suffered from cerebral palsy and fetal alcohol syndrome, said attorney Bryan Delius, who represented the family. The victim his family are not identified in court documents because of his age.

The family had sued the Krystal chain, franchise owner Great Smoky Mountain Enterprises, LLC, (GSM) and the perpetrator of the assault for $10 million. Krystal Corporation had already settled its portion of the complaint for an undisclosed amount. The perpetrator, Matthew Roberts, is in prison after pleading guilty to raping the teen.

“GSM, Krystal’s largest franchisee, is finally taking responsibility for their negligence in permitting a violent sex offender to work unsupervised in their restaurant and enabling the attack on my client,” Delius said Wednesday.

The trial in the civil action against GSM was scheduled to start Wednesday, so the settlement brings a end to the legal proceedings, and spares the victim from testifying about the incident.

The teen was staying at a hotel in Pigeon Forge with his mother at the time when she became sick. She had sent him to the restaurant, which was next door, and had him call to let her know he’d gotten to the restaurant, Delius said.

That’s when Roberts apparently spotted the teen and lured him into a bathroom, where the rape occurred. Robertson fled the area after the crime was reported; U.S. Marshals apprehended him in Massachusetts. He eventually pleaded guilty to rape and violation of the sex offender registry, and is now serving a 14-year prison sentence without the possibility of parole.

At the time of the incident, Robertson was already entered in the Tennessee Sex offender Registry as a violent offender. His earlier convictions include a 1987 charge of second-degree sodomy, 1982 charges of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14 and open and gross lewdness and first-degree rape and abuse of a child.

Documents filed during the proceedings indicate his employers were aware of his prior convictions and that he had allegedly been making inappropriate remarks about underage customers while working at the Seymour and Pigeon Forge locations of the franchise.

Sevier County Sheriff’s deputies had come to the Seymour location, where he worked prior to Pigeon Forge, and told managers that Roberts had been was registered as a violent sex offender. An employee at that store told a manager that Roberts would “approach the counter and go to the restroom whenever young boys were at the restaurant,” according to a filing by Delius.

The manager at that location, Ed Morris, was concerned enough to call his district supervisor with GSM, Rick Carter. Morris said in his deposition that Carter told him to “tell the employees to shut their mouth to those rumors,” and he complied, according to the filing. Morris now works at the Krystal restaurant near Knoxville Center mall, according to an employee at the Seymour location.

Roberts left that restaurant in March 2011 for reasons that aren’t disclosed in the documents provided by Delius. He applied for a job at the Pigeon Forge location and was hired in June 2011 by then-manager Greg Lyle, who had been an assistant manager at the Seymour location while Roberts worked there.

During his depositions in the case, Lyle indicated he thought the situation was “like any drama at any store,” and indicated he thought “Why even talk about it. The man served his time,” according to the filing.

An employee at the Pigeon Forge location indicated Lyle no longer works there.

The court documents indicate Roberts didn’t mention the conviction in his job application, although he did list his previous employers as correctional facilities in New York and Massachussetts.

GSM did not respond to calls seeking comment for this story. Attorneys representing the company were on a speaker phone during Wednesday’s proceedings and could not be reached at their offices Wednesday.

Delius said the rape had dealt a severe blow to the victim’s efforts to overcome his health issues.

“My client is a special needs child that, along with his caring adoptive mother, overcame the challenges of fetal alcohol syndrome and cerebral palsy,” Delius said.

While doctors initially questioned whether he would walk or talk, at the time of the rape he was on track to get an occupational diploma. All of that progress fell apart after the incident.

“As a result of the (rape) of my client, he has been admitted to inpatient health institutions on five occasions,” Delius siad. “He continues to need long-term, full-time care, and his hopes at a diploma are all but gone.”

n jfarrell@themountainpress.com