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Mother wants answers in son's death, one year ago

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The mother of a U.S. Navy airman who fell between the westbound and eastbound lanes of Interstate 64 last year is telling her son's story on the anniversary of his death.

Marrion Keith Phillips, 26, of Ripley, had attempted to cross the interstate from the westbound to the eastbound lanes when he accidentally fell through a 4-foot gap separating both bridges Sept. 1, 2012.

His mother, Monica Steward of Akron, Ohio, is seeking to file a civil suit surrounding the circumstances of his death that night. She and several family members prayed and released balloons in his memory Sunday near where he fell beneath the bridge, east of Magic Island at the edge of the river.

Phillips had been stationed near Dubai and was given permission to come back to the states for his brother's funeral in August 2012. His wife, Krista, was pregnant with their second daughter and he was also there for the birth. He had been overseas and missed the birth of his first daughter a year earlier and was thrilled to be in the delivery room this time, Steward said.

Several weeks after the birth of his daughter, he and his wife decided to take a weekend trip to the Mardi Gras Casino & Resort before traveling to visit family in Ohio, Steward said. Early Sept. 1, casino security called police because Phillips allegedly was acting disorderly inside the casino.

Krista Phillips asked the responding officers to let her husband go back to the hotel room with her, but they refused, Steward said. Instead, the officers took Phillips to the "drunk tank" located on Seventh Avenue on Charleston's West Side, she said.

The Compressive Alcohol Rehabilitation Education Service, widely known as the CARES facility, is where people picked up by police for public intoxication are sent to sober up.

At some point in the night, Phillips walked away from the facility. Steward believes he was trying to walk back to his wife at the casino. CARES employees have no obligation to keep people at the facility but are required to notify police if an intoxicated person wanders off.

Staff at the facility told Steward that Phillips set off an alarm when he walked away, but police were tied up in other matters and couldn't check on him, she said. Phillips ended up walking southeast toward the Interstate 64 on ramp before walking onto the interstate.

Joggers found him dead underneath the interstate later that morning. Steward has been unable to pinpoint which officers responded to the alleged disturbance at the casino that night.

No report was made of the alleged incident. Casino security called a 911 nonemergency number, so no call-log record existed, she said.

Charleston police, who investigated Phillips' death, assumed he had fallen while hitchhiking along the interstate. Steward wants answers as to why her son was not allowed to return to the hotel with his wife that night, she said.

"[The police] saw he was a military man," Steward said. "He still had his dog tags on when they found him." Her son is remembered for his joyous personality, the way he loved to play pranks on people and make them laugh, she said.

Reach Travis Crum attravis.crum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.


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