It may be the first of its kind jury award in Chatham County. And it’s for road rage. In July of 2011, at Atlanta family was leaving Hilton Head after a few days vacation and traveling back home on Interstate 95. Frank and Heather Powers had three children in the back seat, ages 9, 4 and one year. They said not long after they saw the Port Wentworth exit that a man had become enraged and fired five shots at them.
That man, Therman Lee Howard of Savannah, would ultimately plead guilty to aggravated assault and be sentenced to about two and a half years in jail along with seven years probation. However, according to an attorney for the Powers, Thurman ultimately served little of that two and a half year sentence. “He basically served about six months in an area detention center,” says attorney Steve Lowry.
Lowry said it was that short stint behind bars plus the stress and trauma suffered by the family that ultimately led to a civil lawsuit. Thursday, the jury sided with the family all the way, awarding damages in the amount of a little more than 1.5 million dollars and then adding on 3.2 million in punitive damages. “We asked the jury in the case to send a message with their punitive damages verdict which was to punish him and send the message that when somebody does this kind of outrageous conduct and shoots at a family of five people driving down the road that that doesn’t go unanswered,” Lowry told us.
He said after the criminal deposition of the case, the family’s only recourse was in civil court. “He (howard) had five counts of aggravated assault and basically this person shot at a family of five and from our point of view was trying to kill them,” said Lowry. He also said the family “certainly didn’t feel like what Howard served was enough and that was why they wanted to make sure they pursued this case.”
Lowry said during the trial that Howard had indicated that it was Mr. Powers who had started some kind of incident on the roadway. But Lowry said if that had been the case and Howard had somehow felt he was threatened enough to justify firing shots, that he would have likely contacted authorities after the incident. “But he did nothing, he basically hid until he was caught,” Lowry said.
We reached out to Howard’s attorney to ask about the jury award, but he did not return calls.
Lowry said this case may send some kind of message about road rage. But ultimately it’s his clients and especially their children who have to live with this trauma and PTSD for the rest of their lives. He says the children who were four and nine at the time remember what happened. “Now they have to live with the fact that for the rest of their lives if they get on the highway, someone could just decide to shoot at them,” he said.