Evidence suggests death of woman connected to police was an accident

by Jordan Green

The Greensboro City Council voted last October to release personnel information about Lt. James Hinson showing that internal affairs investigators were unable to sustain any of seven allegations against him. Still, one episode casts a particularly vexing shadow over the controversial officer’s reputation in some segments of the community.

An October 2006 installment the The Rhinoceros Times’ “Cops in Black and White” series, written by Randolph County author Jerry Bledsoe, details efforts by Hinson to place a woman named Tabatha Liggins in a free temporary housing program for prostitutes. The article alleges that Liggins had been personally involved with at least two Greensboro police officers, but does not establish evidence that she was so involved with Hinson. A later installment, published last August, would note that Liggins “was killed and nearly beheaded in an unusual one-car accident earlier this year.”

A comment posted to a separate Rhinoceros Times article articulated a suspicion that has spread like a small brush fire through blogs and barrooms, haunting those close to Liggins and others who came to know her through the elaborate narrative spun around Greensboro police officers: “I believe the cops in the department had something to do with the death of Tabatha Liggins,” wrote a person identified as “Angel.” “If that is the case I hope they get the death penalty after they are put in prison with the other prisoners that they arrested.”

To be sure, the accident that took Liggins’ life was bizarre. At about 9 p.m. on the evening of May 6, 2007, Liggins was riding in the passenger seat of James Kaylor’s 1986 Dodge pickup headed northward on Raleigh Street in east Greensboro when the vehicle struck a semi trailer parked perpendicularly and jutting into the street from an auto dealership. A police report estimated the vehicle was traveling about 30 mph.

A report filed with the NC Office of the Chief Medical Examiner indicates that the truck ran under the trailer, and Liggins died almost immediately of massive head trauma. Among the valuables found on the 38-year-old woman’s person were two to five dollars tucked under her sweater at her breast and a yellow metal watch. The medical report noted that Liggins wore a tattoo of a rose and angels on her left shoulder. She left behind two children.

Kaylor, a New York native with a history of gout and crack cocaine use, was charged with misdemeanor death by motor vehicle, to which he pled guilty. Now 70, he is serving 12 to 14 months at McCain Correctional Hospital, a minimum-security facility in Raeford with beds dedicated to the disabled, elderly and other prisoners whose deteriorated condition requires a lock-up with nursing-home accommodations.

A convicted felon with a four-page rap sheet, Kaylor has been in and out of state prison since 1986 for charges ranging from possession with intent to sell drugs to driving with a revoked license.

The notion that Kaylor might have been put up to killing Liggins through a deliberate auto accident is “so absurd that I have no comment,” said Lt. James Hinson, the object of so much speculation over the past two years.

Prosecutor Christopher Parrish’s handling of the case supports Hinson’s statement. Parrish wrote in a bill of information that Kaylor “unintentionally” caused Liggins death.

“There are no indications whatsoever according to the reports I received that it was anything other than a misdemeanor death by motor vehicle,” he said. “Everything supplied by Greensboro Police Department investigators indicated that to be the case.”

Parrish declined to entertain the notion that Greensboro police investigators might have conspired to cover up foul play by one of their own.

“From what I remember, he was driving down a street and had his headlights on and ran into a tractor trailer that was parked on the street,” Parrish said. “The impact was on her side. He wasn’t driving drunk, high on drugs, or anything like that. He just didn’t see it.”

The prosecutor added, “When you’re operating a motor vehicle you have an obligation to watch where you’re going. There was no intentional cause of death. It’s a terrible accident. You might be driving in an unfamiliar neighborhood and run a stop sign and hit someone, but as an operator of a motor vehicle you still have to take a certain amount of responsibility.”

Liggins’ family is suing Impex Auto Sales, the dealership on Raleigh Street, along with Bridge Terminal Transport and Maersk Equipment Service Co.

Steve Bowden, the Liggins’lawyer, also dismissed the idea that Greensboro police officers were involved in Liggins’ death.

“It makes no sense,” he said. “We have a good idea in our minds as how this happens. These people that we have sued have some degree of negligence in her death, and that’s why we sued.”

In a wrinkle that is sure to stoke further speculation among Hinson’s detractors, Bowden is a member of the George C. Simkins Memorial Political Action Committee. Another member of the committee, lawyer Joe Williams, represented Hinson at the time he discovered he was under surveillance by the department’s special intelligence section in June 2005. And Bledsoe’s series has former police Chief David Wray’s January 2006 resignation as being orchestrated by the Simkins PAC even though the committee withheld endorsements from city council candidates who supported City Manager Mitchell Johnson’s handling of the Wray affair.

At the time of Liggins’ death, Kaylor was already facing indictment following an arrest in March for two counts of felony possession of cocaine. Those charges would be handed down three days after the accident.

Liggins had no life insurance and her family paid out of pocket most of a $6,073 bill from Allen & Associates Mortuary to cover funeral expenses, according to a victim impact statement.

Kaylor, meanwhile, was admitted to Moses Cone Memorial Hospital on the night of the accident. Medical records indicate that he required surgery to repair a scalp laceration, and an ear was nearly torn from his head. His discharge summary showed that he sustained traumatic brain injury with a concussion and a bruised chest in the accident, stating that “he was confused intermittently following his admission and was felt to be post-concussive as well as decreased mental status secondary to significant poly substance abuse.”

The elderly driver was discharged from Moses Cone 15 days after the accident. He failed to appear in court to answer for his drug charges on June 11, a date that fell midway in a five-week stay at Britthaven of Guilford Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

An affidavit of indigency signed by Kaylor indicates that he earned an annual income of about $7,175.

On Aug. 20, Guilford County Superior Court Judge Stuart Albright sentenced Kaylor to up to 14 months in prison. The bulk of the sentence – 10-12 months – stemmed from the drug charges, with Liggins’ death adding two months. Albright also ordered Kaylor to pay Liggins’ family to cover her funeral expenses and recommended the defendant for substance abuse treatment.

Eight days after being processed into Central Prison in Raleigh, Kaylor was transferred to McCain Correctional Hospital, a former state tuberculosis sanatorium. While the ailing and infirm receive care from a medical staff numbering some 135, the facility’s webpage notes that healthy inmates “participate in recreation programs like horseshoes or morning exercise classes, ceramics” and group therapy for depression.

Kaylor’s projected release date is Aug. 15, 2008.

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