CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The North Carolina Youth Soccer Association must pay $8.3 million for negligence in the death of a 13-year-old Charlotte boy and a teammate killed in a bus accident during a soccer trip in France.
Julian Brown, a freshman at Myers Park High School, and Matthew Helms, a 13-year-old goalie from Jacksonville, died in April 2004 when the bus they were riding in overturned on a rain-soaked roadway northeast of Paris.
An Onslow County jury on Friday returned the verdict in the parents’ lawsuit against the youth soccer group, which was responsible for overseeing the trip.
The suit, filed in 2005, accused the N.C. Youth Soccer Association of failing to look into the safety record of the bus company used on the trip and allowing a volunteer to speed while driving the team bus.
“We feel a sense of vindication for our children,” Julian Brown’s father Edgar said Friday after the jury reached its verdict. “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.”
Attempts Friday to reach soccer association officials and their attorney were unsuccessful. The France trip included some of the state’s finest teenage soccer players who had been selected to play in an international tournament.
The team was headed home when the bus careened off the highway near Charles de Gaulle International Airport and overturned in a ditch.
French authorities said the bus was traveling 65 mph in a 43 mph zone when driver Philippe Daniel lost control in a curve on the slick road.
Helms died soon after the wreck. Brown was taken with critical injuries to a hospital in Paris.
For several days, friends and family back in Charlotte held out hope that Brown would live. They mailed him get-well cards and videotapes as they heard reports that his condition was improving.
But a week after the crash, Brown died.
“It was as if it just happened yesterday,” Edgar Brown told The Observer Friday. “I can tell you that every witness that was on the bus trip … cried on the witness stand at the trial.”
The civil trial in Onslow County Superior Court in Jacksonville lasted three weeks. On Friday, the jury deliberated for four hours before awarding Brown and Helms family each about $4.1 million in compensatory damages. The attorney for the families said the verdict sends the message that safety must be a priority on trips for children.
“On this trip, all the emphasis was on soccer,” attorney William Bystrynski said. “It wasn’t on safety.”
Daniel, the driver, was jailed afterward and faced charges of involuntary homicide. It was unclear Friday what had become of his case.
Browns’ parents said it was painful to hear the witness testimony.
They learned their son had been conscious after the wreck. That he held hands with a teammate’s parent as they waited for help.
That he was in pain.
“Having to hear that after so many years is horrible,” Edgar Brown said.
With the civil case finally over, Brown said he feels a sense of closure and of justice for his late son.
The Browns sponsor a Charlotte soccer tournament each year in Julian’s name that draws hundreds of soccer teams from around the area and raises funds for scholarships.
The 2013 Julian Brown Memorial Cup happened last weekend.
“It’s a sad story that two young men at the prime of their lives went away and never came home,” Brown said. “I personally feel that this is the end of a very long road.”