A dozen local entities and/or elected officials representing those entities have been served subpoenas as the result of a civil tort suit filed Jan. 11 in Franklin Circuit Court II by Joshua Mosier concerning the March 20, 2020 flooding-related deaths of his daughters KyLee Mosier, 4, and Elysium Lewis, 7, near Laurel. Mosier is requesting a jury trial.

Those entities are Franklin County government bodies (council and commissioners), as well as the Franklin County Sheriff's Department and Franklin County Highway Department. Nominally, the subpoenas were sent to current council president Jeff Koch, members Glen Bischoff, Joe Gillespie, Scott McDonough and Joe Sizemore; Becky Oglesby and Dean McQueen (members at the time); Sheriff Peter Cates; then-commission president Tom Wilson and current commission president Tom Linkel, whose areas of responsibility include overseeing the county's highways and roads.

As the sole surviving natural parent – mother Felina Lewis also perished in the accident – Mosier “prays for judgment against all defendants in an amount commensurate with injuries and damages, the costs of action, and all other relief just and proper.” The suit claims all parties were negligent on several counts - “direct and proximate cause” of the children's deaths – and compensation desired for the loss of services, love and companionship of the girls, funeral and burial expenses and personal counseling services.

In a pair of related suits, filed by Billy Williams III and Daphne Lewis, the same county entities are named as defendants with nearly the exact same language outlining the complaints. Williams is the sole surviving natural parent of Ethan Williams, 13, who was the fourth person in Lewis' vehicle to die on March 20. Daphne Lewis was appointed personal representative for the estate of Felina Lewis; she alleges that said negligence also caused “extreme horror, distress, pain, suffering and mental anguish Felina experienced between the time her vehicle went off the road to the time of her death.”

The county experienced significant rainfall (approximately 2.5 inches) between March 18-20 last spring. As a result, several waterways in the county rose above their banks, including Sanes Creek at the bridge near Tee Hill and Mettle roads.

According to the suits, resident James Ault was checking his cattle directly east of the bridge in question, around 3 a.m. on the morning of the 20th.

When he saw the creek was flooding, his wife Robin called the FCSD dispatch call center at 3:17 a.m. to report the bridge being heavily flooded.

About one hour later, resident Diane Madden approached the bridge and observed water flowing across; she told the dispatcher the “bridge on Sanes Creek Road is completely washed away.”

Yet a third call came in around 4:46 a.m., the resident advising the bridge was not passable.

About this same time, Lewis, 35, was leaving her house at 24205 Sanes Creek Road with three children in tow. She was due at work in Greensburg by 6 a.m. and needed to drop off two children at daycare. Heading west toward the bridge, she approached with no knowledge of the bridge condition or of the residents' calls.

Mrs. Ault called in again at 4:54 a.m., this time reporting a vehicle had been swept away into the creek and her spotting of headlights and hearing a woman screaming. This was the Lewis vehicle.

Mosier received a call alerting him of the submerged vehicle and immediately called Lewis' employer and the daycare to ask if either had seen her.

After receiving a negative response, Mosier decided to enter the freezing creek waters himself to begin searching. He first found the lifeless body of KyLee and later of Elysium, carrying both back to his home less than a mile away.

The earlier warning call of 4:18 from Madden had been taken by dispatcher Brendon Durham, along with then-trainee Ellie Ford, according to an internal investigation conducted by Maj. Gregory Mehlbauer that same afternoon.

An excerpt from Mehlbauer's conversation with the call center was reproduced in the complaint. He asked what was done with the call. When he learned it was made an I-call, he responded, “Are you (expletive) kidding me? Nobody called County Highway?”

An I-call is an “Informational” call; thus, the news was not automatically routed to the highway department, emergency personnel and/or the public.

Such a call does not have to be cleared or assigned by an FCSD officer. At 5:32 p.m., Mehlbauer learned that highway was not contacted.

Communications supervisor Jon Hundley or acting supervisor at the time, it was learned, also did not route to the proper channels. (The supervisor is only mentioned in the suit as “supervisor.”)

This is a focal point of the suits, as each claims no action was taken on either of the three warning calls. Additionally, the dispatcher(s) were allegedly posting to personal social media accounts during those same overnight hours, according to the official complaint.

FCSD is cited as failing to exercise reasonable care in responding to the 4:18 call, failing to warn the public/ignoring and perpetuating a dangerous permanent condition of a roadway to the detriment of the public, failing to contact the highway department upon notice and failing to properly train employees on department policies.

FCHD and FC government are cited as failing to exercise reasonable care in inspecting and maintaining the bridge, creating or maintaining a hazard by allowing debris to gather under the bridge – creating a natural dam that allowed water to wash out the bridge approach - and failing to warn the traveling public of said hazards.

All the alleged inactions “constitute willful and wanton conduct” that led to the accidents.

Other complaints note that the defendants had extensive experience dealing with heavy rains and their effect on area waterways, that waterways will destroy underlying roadways to the point of washing away, that bridges designed by the county use pillars and these pillars can create means by which floating debris becomes caught on the pillars to obstruct water, and that the water then seeks alternate routes of travel.

Although the county's bridges are rated below the state average in all categories, the Sanes Creek bridge was inspected in the fall of 2018 and passed inspection with no significant structural defects. 

Indiana Code states a governmental entity or employee acting within the scope of employment is not liable if a loss results from the temporary condition of a public thoroughfare that results from weather.

However, Mosier's complaint references this statute: “Defendants are not entitled to immunity as the condition of the roadway was a permanent condition of which defendants had knowledge of and good time to act and knowingly failed to do so.”

Two other individuals lost their lives under similar circumstances that day: Shawn Roberts, 47, and Burton Spurlock, Jr., 48. 

The two men are only listed by name in the Lewis suit, as Daphne Lewis served notice of a future claim last July to the Indiana State Police superintendent, the governor's office, the state attorney general's office, INDOT commissioner, Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the Indiana Department of Insurance Risk Management commission, Franklin Co. commissioners, sheriff's department and the superintendent of the highway department. She listed Spurlock and Roberts among the “persons involved.” 

Mosier is represented by Wagner Reese LLP of Carmel, attorney Jeffrey S. Gibson. Lewis is represented by Ken Nunn Law Offices of Bloomington, attorney Bradford J. Smith. Williams is represented by M. Michael Stephenson and Brady Rife/Stephen-son Rife LLP of Shelbyville.

The defendants (or their representation) have 20-23 days from the 11th to respond in writing or a default judgment may be rendered.