Suit filed in Gatlinburg trolley death

City, driver named in complaint about 2012 accident
Aug. 27, 2013 @ 11:33 PM

The city is facing a $500,000 wrongful death complaint from the family of a Michigan schoolteacher who died last year after the trolley she was riding in rolled off Buckhorn Road.

Sixty-six-year-old Eunice Spencer was riding to the Glades arts and crafts community with a friend last Labor Day when the trolley driver reportedly tried to pull to the side of the road to avoid an oncoming car and the ground under the trolley collapsed and it rolled off the road.

Spencer and the other passenger were thrown from their seats. She suffered broken ribs and other injuries in the accident, and had to be helped from the vehicle by emergency responders. They transported her to The University of Tennessee Medical Center, where she died 11 days after the accident.

David Spencer, her brother, filed the lawsuit last week on behalf of her estate. It names the city and trolley driver Phillip Lynn Bowman as defendants, and claims Bowman was not following traffic regulations when the wreck occurred.

“Defendant failed to keep a proper lookout ahead for other vehicular traffic on the roadway ... was operating the trolley at a speed in excess of that which was reasonable under the circumstances ... failed to properly apply his brakes or steer the trolley so as to avoid running off of the roadway pavement,” the lawsuit states.

It also says she suffered injuries including “fractured ribs, a collapsed lung, and blunt trauma to her chest which resulted in medical complications ultimately causing (her death).”

City officials declined to comment for this story.

Spencer had actually spoken to a report from The Mountain Press for a phone interview from her hospital room just two days before her death.

She said she and her friend had come to the area from Michigan to attend a wedding in North Carolina. They’d come here afterwards to shop.

“We were talking about the places we wanted to visit and we heard (the driver) say this car is coming kind of fast I’ll just go kind of closer to the edge,” she said during that interview. “As soon as he pulled closer to the edge, it started to slide, the trolley did, and it tipped over on its side and it tipped over again so we were left on the (ceiling) of the trolley.”

Her friend was treated and released at LeConte Medical Center. The driver, 48-year-old Phillip Bowman, of Sevierville, declined treatment. Doctors had moved Spencer out of the intensive care unit by Sept. 8, days before her death.

Her autopsy report indicated she died due to heart disease, but included trauma to her chest as a contributing factor.

Dr. Christopher Lochmuller wrote that Spencer died “of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. Other conditions that significantly contributed to death are obesity, hypertensive cardiovascular disease, blunt chest trauma, emphysema and asthma. The manner of death is accident.”

After the accident, the city changed its trolley routes so they wouldn’t be on the edge of the steep embankment on Buckhorn Road.

jfarrell@themountainpress.com