A jury has found the North Carolina Youth Soccer Association negligent in the death of two young soccer players in a 2004 bus accident in France. The jury awarded about $8.3 million in compensatory damages to be divided between the parents of Onslow County’s Matt Helms and Charlotte’s Julian Brown.
Both boys, age 13, were members of the N.C. Youth Soccer Association’s 1990 boys Olympic Development Program team. They were among the best soccer players in North Carolina in their age group.
The three-week trial, which ended on April 26, was held in Onslow County. Charges were filed there, home county for the Helms family, in 2005.
Brown was a freshman at Myers Park High School and Helms was a goalkeeper from Jacksonville. The team had been in France on a 10-day tour. The accident occurred right outside Paris as the team was traveling by charter bus to Charles de Gaulle International Airport for their return flight home to the U.S.
The bus was reported to have been speeding on wet roads and overturned into a ditch. It was reported that Helms died shortly after the accident, and Brown was one of three Charlotte players who were injured.
Brown was hospitalized with critical injuries, but died a week after the crash. At the time of his death there had been signs that he was making progress in his recovery.
Original 2004 reports of the accident said that approximately 34 persons were on the bus, including players, coaches, NCYSA officials and at least 10 parents of the players.
“We feel a sense of vindication for our children,” Julian Brown’s father Edgar told Cameron Steele, who reported the verdict in The Charlotte Observer. “We’re just relieved that someone, after so much energy and effort has been expended, thought we deserved compensation for the loss of their lives so many years ago now.”
The civil trial was held in Onslow County Superior Court In Jacksonville. The judgement was rendered after only four hours of jury deliberation.
Attorney William Bystrynski, who specializes in motor vehicle negligence and trucking negligence for the Raleigh personal injury law firm Kirby & Holt ,said that the verdict stressed the importance of safety being a priority on trips for children.
“On this trip, all the emphasis was on soccer,” Steele quoted Brystrnski as saying, “It wasn’t on safety.”
The driver of the bus, Philippe Daniel, who lost control of the bus, was arrested and jailed after the accident. He faced charges of involuntary homicide, but information about his trial and his charges have not been made available.
A number of witnesses who were on the trip testified.
“It was as if it just happened yesterday,” Edgar Brown told Steele. “I can tell you that every witness that was on the bus trip….cried on the witness stand at the trial.”
NCYSA has made no statement concerning the trial and the judgement by the jury. Inquires were directed to the attorneys for NCYSA. It is not known if an appeal will be filed to to have judgement overturned or have the amount awarded reduced.