The widows of the two men murdered by a co-worker at Coast Guard Base Kodiak four years ago have filed a wrongful death suit against the United States Government.
Nicola Belisle and Debora Hopkins, the wives and executors for their late husbands’ estates, are each seeking more than $1.1-million in damages.
Their attorney is Jill Wittenbrader of Kodiak
“After reviewing transcripts from the criminal trial, we believe the Unites States Coast Guard should have been aware of the danger that Mr. Wells presented to his coworkers and should have taken steps to protect those working with him,” she said.
Richard Belisle, a retired coast Guardsman, and James Hopkins, who was active duty Coast Guard, were 51 and 41 years old, respectively, when they were killed in cold blood by Jim Wells, a co-worker in the rigging shop at the Coast Guard Communications Station on Antone Larson Bay Road, in 2012. Federal prosecutors claimed Wells, a retired Coast Guardsman, was disgruntled as a civilian employee and killed his coworkers in jealousy and in an attempt to regain his standing in the rigging shop.
In a trio of cases from 1950, the Supreme Court specified that military personnel could not sue for injuries occurring “incident to their service.”
But Wittenbrader says: “That’s not true. The federal government can be sued under the Federal Tort Claims Act.
“And that act actually outlines an administrative procedure to go through before filing a case in U.S. District Court. We’ve proceeded through those administrated claim procedure and this is the next step in pursuing those claims.”
Since Hopkins was killed while on active duty, it could further cloud the wrongful death suit. But Wittenbrader seems confident.
“The government hasn’t brought that up as a defense at this point,” she said. “And I think that if the government’s been negligent and contributed to the cause of someone’s death, certainly they can be held responsible as any other party could be.”
Wells, age 63 at the time of his sentencing, was found guilty in April 2014 of two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of murder of an officer or employee of the United States, as well as use of a firearm in a crime of violence. He was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences, which he is serving in a federal prison in the Lower 48.