Thaddeus Matthews sues Shelby County over son's death

by: Zach Crenshaw Updated:

MEMPHIS, Tenn - Thaddeus Matthews is suing Shelby County over the death of his son.

Matthews' son, Kenya, was hit and killed while riding his bike earlier this year.

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Police said the driver, Melvin Willies, was drunk just months after he was convicted of reckless driving and ordered to have an interlock device installed on his car.

The reckless driving conviction began as a DUI arrest, and it was not Willies’ first run-in with law enforcement.

Memphis police officers wrote in their June report that Willies had been convicted of driving under the influence in Minnesota and Iowa over the past ten years.

Willies was out of jail and still on probation for reckless driving when a judge ordered an interlock device installed on his car for six months.

Less than three months later though, police said he was intoxicated when he hit and killed Kenya.

“Had he had an interlock device on his car Thursday night, June 15. My son will not be dead,” said Thaddeus Matthews, the victim’s father and a popular, controversial talk show host.

Last week, Matthews filed a lawsuit against Shelby County and the county’s probation office for one million dollars.

The lawsuit, “charges and alleges that the defendant, Shelby County was guilty of common law negligence for failing to make sure the interlock device was installed on Melvin Willies’ vehicle.”

“The money does not bring my son back,” said Matthews. “But there needs to be an investigation in Shelby County about how many drivers are being allowed to repeat themselves as drunk drivers.”

FOX13 discovered that private companies are in charge of installing interlock devices, and that seven businesses are contracted with the state to install them in Shelby County.

One business owner that installs interlocks told FOX13 it is up to the offender to bring their car in for the device and to notify probation and the state.

He said probation officers do not confirm with him that an interlock device has been installed.

A top DUI lawyer in Memphis told FOX13 a judge’s order does not require offenders to get the interlock device.

He said offenders choose to get the ‘ordered’ device if they want to get their restricted driver’s license, instead of having it revoked.

State law says that any court, agency, department, program, group, etc. that is responsible for the supervision of such [offender] shall:(1)  Require proof of the installation of the functioning ignition interlock device on at least one motor vehicle operated by such person; (2)  Require periodic reporting by the person for verification of the proper operation of the functioning ignition interlock device; (3)  Require the person to have the system monitored for proper use and accuracy by an entity approved by the department of safety at least every thirty days, or more   frequently as the circumstances may require; and (4)  Notify the court of any of the person's violations of this part.

The courts will now decide if Shelby County was responsible for Matthews’ son’s death, or if it was a tragic situation of someone allegedly disregarding the law again.

In both Willies’ prior DUI arrests in Shelby County, they were pled down to reckless driving convictions.

FOX13 wanted to know if that was a pattern, but the District Attorney’s Office said that in the approximately 1,000 DUI cases prosecuted in 2016, 80% were convicted of DUI.

FOX13 reached out to Shelby County and the probation office.

A county spokesperson sent the following statement:

“This being a pending legal matter, the County will address the allegations in court.”

The Shelby County Probation Office did not comment or respond despite repeated calls and requests for comment.

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