Teen wreck deaths spark bitter legal battle

Picture of Toyota Prius at accident scene from court filings

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – The tragic deaths of two teenage brothers 16 months ago just hours after one returned from a school trip to Cuba has sparked a bitter legal battle over who should be held responsible.

According to Fayette County Circuit Court documents reviewed by WTVQ, Mark Waller Williams, acting on behalf of himself and as administrator of the estate of his dead 15-year-old son, Neo Sanders, sued Neo’s mother, Heather Marie Sanders, her father, Ronald Sanders, Adrian Puckett, the father of the teen who was driving the car in the fatal crash, and Sayre School, where Neo attended and which sponsored a trip to Cuba from which Neo had returned only hours before the accident.

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Neo and 17-year-old Roan Sanders were killed when the 2015 Toyota Prius, driven by Bobby Puckett, who was 18 at the time, crashed at high speed into a tree at 1800 Harrodsburg Road at 3:44 a.m. on Feb. 17, 2019. The car was owned by Adrian Puckett. Bobby Puckett is not named in the lawsuit, according to court documents reviewed by WTVQ.

From left, Roan and Neo Sanders in a picture included in the court filings

The accident scene was two-tenths of a mile from Heather Sanders’ home, where the three boys had been “hanging out” prior to the accident.

Bobby Puckett was charged with two counts of manslaughter in July 2019. That case is set for a docket call in circuit court in August.

The lawsuit and other legal maneuverings have taken several turns, according to the court filings reviewed by WTVQ.

While Williams was named administrator of Neo Sanders’ estate, Heather Sanders got another order making her co-administrator. On that alone, she has asked Williams’ lawsuit be dismissed, arguing co-administrators can’t sue each other.

Meanwhile, Williams has asked a judge to throw out the order making her co-administrator, citing a number of factors, some duplicating the allegations he’s made holding her partially responsible for the accident.

He’s also asked a judge to delay discovery and other aspects of the case until Puckett’s criminal case is resolved. He argues his attorneys can’t get evidence, such as Puckett’s statements, blood-alcohol test results, cell phone content, police reports and other material, until that happens.

“In the civil matter, the parties will benefit greatly in learning Puckett’s testimony before proceeding with additional  discovery since he is seemingly the only witness to events during the two hours  immediately before and during the collision. One important area of discovery is whether Puckett, Neo, and Roan drank any rum from Neo’s trip to Cuba. Since Heather Marie Sanders was purportedly asleep for two hours prior to the collision, Puckett is the only person who can testify to whether the boys drank any Cuban rum prior to the fatal collision. That is a crucial question that should be answered by Puckett before additional discovery is sought in this case,” Williams’ attorneys argue.

That motion is set for a hearing July 10. The hearing on the administrator of the estate is set later in July, according to the court documents.

Among other things, Mark Williams alleges, and Heather Sanders, admits the two Sanders’ brothers were at her house between 10:30 p.m. and midnight the night of Feb. 16 and that Puckett joined them at about midnight. He suggests she allowed at least Puckett to drink because she admitted to previously allowing teenagers to drink at her home on at least one occasion previously.

In court papers obtained by WTVQ, she denies giving them alcohol but admits Puckett drank at least one alcoholic beverage and smoked marijuana at her house sometime after midnight the night of the collision.

Heather Sanders argues she was asleep for two hours before the accident and doesn’t know what the boys did after she went to sleep.

In a Snapchat video clip at 2:11 a.m., Puckett is heard telling the other two to “get him another drink” and Roan Sanders is heard saying he is, “Drunk,” according to allegations included in the court record.

Williams alleges the mother was not supposed to be alone with the boys without her father being within “ear shot” of them and that her father had temporary custody based on a January 2019 court order. Heather Sanders and her father, Robert Sanders deny that.

Williams argues Sayre is partially responsible because its staff knew Neo Sanders brought at least one bottle of rum back from Cuba and did nothing about it when they arrived back at the Blue Grass Airport on the afternoon of Feb. 16.

Sayre denies any responsibility, saying its staff and chaperones acted properly on any knowledge they had. Furthermore, they say Roan Sanders had permission to pick up his brother, which he did when they arrived at the airport.

The school notes that Williams, who the school suspected of being “intoxicated,” has called the school “belligerent” in the past, making threats related to the lawsuit. The calls were serious enough the school filed a police report, the school said in its responses to the case.