- Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 May 2014 09:44
- Published on Wednesday, 07 May 2014 09:44
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A four-man, three-woman Westmoreland County Circuit Court jury has found Stephen Andersen, the owner of the popular Good Eats Cafe, liable for the death of his wife during a snowstorm in 2010 and awarded an $8,000,000 judgement to his daughter and his step-daughter.
After a three-day trial, jurors were looking at a case where various experts and even the two daughters disagreed on whether or not Andersen was responsible for Sally Rumsey, 42, freezing to death in a snowbank on Feb. 5, 2010. Then the final witness, Andersen himself, took the stand.
The 62-year-old chef and restaurant owner appeared arrogant and unfeeling in more than an hour of testimony during which he appeared unconcerned that his wife was missing during a blizzard. “I didn’t think she was missing,” he said. “I just didn’t know where she was,” Andersen said to the jury.
Despite the fact that his wife was outside during a blinding snowstorm, apparently with no coat, hat or gloves, Andersen waited two days to contact authorities and referred to his wife in the past tense when interviewed by Westmoreland County Sheriff C.O. Balderson even before Rumsey’s snow covered body was found
The lawsuit was filed in the case by by Sarah Thrift, Rumsey’s 28-year-old daughter from a previous marriage. The suit, which sought $10 million, also asked that the Kinsale area restaurant and other properties he and his late wife co-owned be distributed to Rumsey’s daughters.
The jury, which was unanimous in its verdict, awarded Thrift $6 million and her younger sister, Schuyler Anderson, 21, $2 million. Schuyler Anderson was not a party to the lawsuit and testified in her father’s behalf.
Rumsey’s frozen body was found covered in snow 40 yards from the house on Feb. 9 by a Virginia state trooper. The cause of death was listed as exposure by the state medical examiner but he and an expert for the defense differed on the manner of death.
A defense forensic expert testified during the trial the death site was suspicious: a partially empty bottle of red wine was several feet away, Rumsey’s body was not in a fetal position but lying in a somewhat prone position. Rumsey had alcohol and Ambien, a prescription sleep aid, in her system at the time of death. Dr. Kevin Whaley of the Virginia Medical Examiner’s office ruled the death a suicide in 2010.
Rumsey’s daughters disagreed on the suicide finding. “My mom would never do that,” said Thrift. “I could see my mom hurting herself,” said Schuyler. The daughters did agree that there was tension and frequent arguments in the house between Rumsey and Andersen.
Andersen’s lawyer, John P. Harris III, of Fredericksburg said he will appeal the verdict, but he may have a difficult task. Legal experts said the Virginia Court of Appeals rarely overturns a jury verdict in the Commonwealth.
An additional problem for Andersen could come from Westmoreland County Commonwealth’s Attorney Julia Sichol, who could still prosecute him for the death. Sheriff’s investigator Fred Mitchell said the Rumsey death is still listed as an open case and investigators during the trial testified they disagreed with the ruling of suicide from the beginning of the case.
— Richard Leggitt