GALLIPOLIS — A Gallipolis woman’s request was turned down after she approached Gallipolis City Commission Tuesday evening to ask that the city consider paying for her vehicle that was reportedly damaged by a fallen light pole on Second Avenue.
“I had a light pole on Second Avenue where I live (300 block), where my car was parked, the pole had a big bunch of flowers on it and it had just gotten done being watered because I was out there earlier that morning,” said Pamela Hopkins,” and I proceeded on with my day, took a bath, and I got a knock on my door telling me there’s a pole on top of my car.”
Hopkins said she inspected the vehicle as it had a cracked windshield, damaged hood and front. She took photos of the event and brought an individual who said they were a witness to seeing the pole on the car to the meeting. Hopkins claimed she tried to resolve the matter with City Manager Gene Greene without success.
“I shouldn’t have to drive around with a wrecked car and a cracked windshield,” said Hopkins. “I worked hard to buy my car. It’s a cheap car but it’s my car.”
Hopkins claimed she had a report from Gallipolis Police Department that said “the plate had rusted away and the bolt had come through” in regards to the pole.
“It should have been maintained,” said Hopkins. “I haven’t seen anybody working on other poles since then because I’ve been aware and looking. Nobody has been out to check any of the other poles. I don’t know what to do but to come here and ask please (to fix her car). I have two estimates. He brought another person to give me an estimate (Hopkins gestured at Greene). I was under the impression everything was going to be okay pretty soon.”
Hopkins said she was told the city was going to refuse to pay for her car and that Greene had walked away from her because she said she had gotten legal advice from “a secretary.” She said she did not have an attorney.
Commission President Mike Fulks asked City Solicitor Adam Salisbury to elaborate on whether the city had “sovereign immunity.”
“There’s all kinds of different issues wrapped up in this,” said Salisbury. “Without going into the facts of the case and since this is not a courtroom and this was a different set of facts than what was presented to me, you and I have never talked before (said to Hopkins), and I have heard a different story than the one you just told about how the light pole came to fall over.”
Hopkins said she understood someone had been chaining a bike to the pole. Salisbury said he wasn’t trying to argue the facts of the event other than city officials had heard there was someone potentially pushing on the pole while trying to chain a bike to it or that someone had been watering flowers on the pole.
“I don’t know what is true and what’s not,” said Salisbury. “There are (legal) immunity issues wrapped up in this and the reason our city manager would not discuss the case further with you is because he believed that you had an attorney.”
Hopkins responded she told Greene she did not have an attorney. She had told him she had gotten legal advice from a secretary. She claimed Greene had responded that as long as she had gotten legal advice he did not have to talk to her.
“Ma’am, it’s not that we don’t want to talk to you, it’s that we are not permitted to talk to you,” said Salisbury.
Hopkins asked who would she go to then. Salisbury responded to her attorney’s office. She responded she did not have an attorney. Salisbury said he hoped she could understand why city officials might be reluctant to talk to her if they felt she had represented that she had an attorney at one point. He asked who was chaining the bike up or may have pushed the pole. Hopkins felt someone chaining a bike to a pole should not be pushing a pole hard enough for it to fall.
Greene spoke up and said according to reports a Michael Wilson had said he was attempting to tie a bike around the pole when it began to fall. He tried to stop it but it was too heavy to stop.
Greene claimed Hopkins had told him she talked to an attorney and walked away because he wasn’t going to stand on the street and have someone “shout” at him. Hopkins replied she wasn’t shouting but asking for insurance information. Greene replied he did turn a claim into the city’s insurance company and its associates and they refused to pay for the incident. Greene read a statement reportedly from the insurance company and its associates saying “in reviewing the scenario I can’t see how the city was negligent as it pertains to the loss.”
Hopkins replied she felt it was negligent because the pole was rusted and broken and should be maintained.
“That could be someone’s head,” said Hopkins. “That could be really bad.“
“We’re not unsympathetic to your case,” said Salisbury. “You have to understand that I think if any of us had a pole fall on their car, we’d probably stand where you are at. At the same time, these guys (the commission) have a responsibility to the citizens not to spend the citizens’ money in a way that is contrary to not only the facts that have been presented but also when we rely on the opinion of our insurance company to…”
“I shouldn’t have to drive around a wrecked car with a cracked windshield because the pole was rusted and broken,” said Hopkins. “I don’t have the money to fix my car.”
Nan Harder stood as a witness to the event and shared her recollection.
“I had to maneuver to get into traffic (after shopping),” said Harder. “I was probably sitting at a 45-degree angle directly at (the post in question). I saw a man and a bicycle on the sidewalk. The post laid over on the car. The flower pot came out in the middle of the street and that’s what I saw. To me, that is the city’s fault. It could have been anything. It could have fallen in the street and caused another accident.”
Salisbury, after the meeting, would later cite 2744.02 and 2744.03 as the passage of the Ohio Revised Code discussing legal immunities.
Commissioner Cody Caldwell asked if the city had any prior knowledge of that pole being broken to which Greene replied no.
Harder said she felt all the poles with flower pots should be checked as they were being watered and she felt poles could be rusting.
Hopkins said she just wanted her car fixed. Commission President Mike Fulks said he didn’t think the commission was in a position to do that with its insurance company’s opinion feeling the city was not liable.
Hopkins emotionally said she felt the city was wrong and she should not have to drive a broken vehicle due to the negligence of someone else.
Another unidentified man followed Hopkins out saying that what was being done was wrong and that she was a citizen of the city as well.
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.