Settlement in Wes Watkins crash totals $2 million

Thursday, November 18th 2004, 6:41 am
By: News On 6

STILLWATER. Okla. (AP) _ A $2-million settlement brought an end to a lawsuit against former U.S. Rep. Wes Watkins over a collision that killed a Stillwater couple and orphaned their three daughters, according to court documents.

The settlement, approved in September by a Payne County judge, states that two girls who were injured in the collision will receive $190,000 to compensate them for their injuries. Attorneys will get $71,000 for settling their claims.

All three of the girls will receive $1.81 million for the deaths of their parents. Attorneys will get $624,000 for settling those claims.

Brian and Ardith Cullen were killed in the April 19 wreck when a minivan Watkins was driving collided with their car, pushing it into the path of a tractor-trailer and another car, investigators said.

Watkins, 65, was charged with two counts of misdemeanor negligent homicide. He has pleaded innocent.

A Fort Smith, Ark., attorney who represented the girls in the case has said Watkins appeared to have been using a cellular telephone when the collision happened.

But the attorney, Bill Reynolds, said he does not believe Watkins needs to be tried for negligent homicide.

District Attorney Rob Hudson has said no evidence indicated Watkins was on the phone at the time of the collision, which an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper attributed to inattentive driving.

A hearing in the negligent homicide case is set Dec. 20. Watkins could not be reached for comment.

Settlement documents were sealed in the Cullens' civil case against Watkins. But in the Cullens' probate case, the documents had not been sealed and were available for inspection.

When announcing the settlement last week, Reynolds said the money the girls would receive would take care of them ``pretty well.'' Reynolds said the money will be put into long-term annuities for the children.

The accident injured Meagan Cullen, 4, and her younger sister Lindsey Cullen, 3. A third daughter, Ashlee Cullen, 9, was not involved in the accident.

The girls are being cared for by a paternal grandmother and stepgrandfather, court records show.