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Records detail fatal accident resulting from seizure

By Jody Callahan, The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Aug. 09--Eight months before his truck veered off an East Memphis road, plowed through several obstacles and killed a woman visiting from China, Calvin Hale had a seizure and stroke that left him on numerous medications and under the care of a neurologist.

But, according to Tennessee law, Hale was driving legally the morning of June 10, 2013, when he apparently had another seizure and blackout that caused the fatal accident. Tests also showed that he was not legally impaired from drugs or alcohol. As a result, the Shelby County District Attorney has closed the case, and no charges will be filed against Hale in the death of Meihua Liu, 68.

"From what I can see, I don't think there's enough to convince a jury that he committed a crime," said Billy Bond, chief prosecutor for the Shelby County District Attorney's DUI Task Force. "But it's certainly tragic."

At the request of The Commercial Appeal, the Memphis Police Department and the D.A.'s office released their complete case files on the accident. The files, totaling more than 500 pages and 200 photos, reveal numerous details about the accident that have not been made public.

They show that Hale -- who has been arrested four times for DUI and twice more for public drunkenness -- was tested for impairment at the hospital. That came as a surprise to prosecutors, who, as late as last week, were under the impression that no tests had been done.

The story began just before 7:30 that June 10 morning, as Hale was heading home down Tutwiler after working overnight for the Tennessee Department of Transportation. As he neared the 4100 block of Tutwiler in his 1998 Ford Ranger, Hale suddenly veered right, then back to the left.

"I felt like my whole face was drawing up, then it switch from the left side to the right side and it started hurting worse. I tried to stop and that's all I remember. I went totally blank, just blacked out," Hale later told police.

Hale then ran over a curb, through a fence, over a median and into a garage on Pecan Garden Drive, traveling 120.2 feet. Standing in front of her daughter's 2012 Honda Accord, Liu was holding her 5-month-old grandson.

The Ranger smashed into the woman, causing Liu to drop her grandson onto the garage floor. The accelerator still pressed down, the pickup continued grinding against the woman and the Honda, causing smoke to fill the garage. Kevin Ge was wailing on the floor, suffering from a fractured skull, a broken collarbone and injuries to his liver. Liu was dead.

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The boy was rushed to Le Bonheur Children's Hospital, while Hale was taken to the Regional Medical Center for his injuries. Medical personnel noted several times that Hale was "so combative" upon arrival, according to records. Hale wasn't seriously injured, but it took several weeks for Kevin to recover from his injuries.

Hale's first stroke and seizure happened on Oct. 17, 2012, records show. He began seeing Dr. Lee Stein, a neurologist, who put him on various medications to control seizures.

One of those was Keppra, but Hale visited Stein in late March 2013, complaining of agitation and headaches. Stein made the decision to switch to Depakote, while slowly weaning Hale off Keppra. One week before the accident, records show, was the last time Hale took Keppra.

But, thanks largely to a March 6 note from Stein, Hale was legally able to drive. The change in drugs came after the note was written. Hale told police that he was taking his pills as prescribed.

"This gentleman will have clearance to drive as of April 8, 2013, if he has no recurrent seizures at that point. I have recommended that he can return to work with restrictions as previously described. Restrictions do include working at heights and working around heavy machinery," Stein's note read.

In Tennessee, doctors are not required to report seizures to state safety officials. If the state had been made aware of the October 2012 incident, officials could have suspended Hale's license for at least six months. However, the doctor's note would have been sufficient to reinstate his driving privileges, a state spokesman said.

"At the end of that period, if we receive something from that driver's physician, stating that the person has been lapse-free and that the condition is being treated, we'll reinstate," said Gerry Crownover, manager of the state's driver improvement program.

Crownover said the state was not notified of the first seizure, meaning Hale's license was never suspended. Despite police reports that detail the apparent second seizure, the state hasn't been notified of that one either, Crownover said. He did note, though, that Hale's drivers license had been suspended two times for DUI convictions.

Hale's DUI arrests came in 1980, 1993, 1997 and 2000. He served a total 1 month, 26 days for those arrests. His public drunkenness arrests came in 1984 and 1988; the latter also involved a domestic situation.

Hale has had a difficult time since the accident, records show. After Hale was arrested on suspicion of domestic assault on March 10, 2013, his wife Julie sued for divorce that July. She noted in her filing that Hale was "guilty of inappropriate marital conduct." He countersued, accusing her of the same thing. The divorce was ultimately granted, and the arrest record expunged.

Not long after the accident, the Regional Medical Center filed a lien against Hale for his $58,029.42 hospital bill. The lien was released about two months later. In November 2013, he retired from TDOT after 21 years.

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Then, in March 2014, Qiu Hua Zhang and Haiman Ge, the parents of Kevin Ge, sued Hale on a personal injury claim. They ultimately settled the case, with Hale -- and his insurance company -- agreeing to pay $100,000 to settle Kevin's medical bills. After the bills have been paid, the remaining money will be put into a trust that will be dispensed to Kevin on his 18th, 21st, 25th and 30th birthdays.

Zhang didn't respond to several phone calls or e-mails seeking comment. Julie Hale declined to speak with a reporter, and Calvin Hale could not be reached.

___

(c)2014 The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.)

Visit The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.) at www.commercialappeal.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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