L-R Terrence Bethune and Michael Goldberg John Disney/Daily Report
The mother of a man killed on Valentine's Day when a car smashed into a Sandy Springs car wash as the victim paid his bill has settled her claims against the car wash and the driver's insurer for $1.25 million.
"The enormity of this loss for the family is unfathomable," said Atlanta solo Terrence Bethune, who represented the mother and siblings of Malcolm Callender II along with Fried Rogers Goldberg partner Michael Goldberg. "There can be no greater tragedy than for a parent to have to bury a child."
The bizarre accident occurred on Saturday, Feb. 14, at about 5 p.m. at Mikael's Auto Spa on Roswell Road. Callender, a 41-year-old accountant, was at the cash register waiting to pay when a car wash employee, Wilfredo Santos-Serrano, came speeding out of the car wash in another customer's car.
According to the Sandy Springs police report, all the witnesses said the 2015 Ford Mustang that Santos-Serrano was driving came out "spinning tires" and "drifted" around some traffic cones before smashing through the building's side wall and window. Callender had his back turned, Bethune said, and was struck as he stood inside.
Callender was taken to Grady Memorial Hospital, where he died of his injuries.
Santos-Serrano, 22, fled the scene and was caught several hours later at a nearby apartment complex. He was charged with first-degree vehicular homicide and hit-and-run resulting in death, both felonies, and is currently free on $25,000 bond.
Callender had a half-dozen siblings in Atlanta and elsewhere, and one of his friends suggested the lawyer to the victim's mother, Francine Gomez, who lives on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Bethune said Callender, who was unmarried and had no children, had worked at Cox Enterprises and that his funeral drew hundreds of mourners.
"That was great comfort to his mother, to see that he had so many friends here," Bethune said.
Bethune has handled cases previously with Goldberg, and asked him to assist with the matter.
In a March 18 demand letter, the lawyers demanded the $1 million policy limit carried by Mikael's insurer, State Auto Property and Casualty, as well as the $100,000 limit of Callender's USAA policy and the $25,000 liability coverage Geico carried for the Mustang driven by Santos-Serrano. All three insurers tendered the limits within 90 days, he said.
"It is always nice to see insurance companies paying policy limits demands when the injury clearly exceeds the coverage," said Goldberg. "Given the circumstances, we reduced our fee and passed the savings along to the client and co-counsel. It was a win-win situation for everyone."
Santos-Serrano's criminal lawyer, Michael Wallace, said his client had cooperated fully with the lawyers in obtaining the settlement.
"My client was very sad about the event that happened, and he deeply regrets that it resulted in death," said Wallace. "He wanted to do everything he could to help the family try to put the grieving behind them."