GA Supreme Court rules not to take 2011 Richmond Hill wrongful death suit to jury trial

RICHMOND HILL, GA (WTOC) - The Georgia Supreme Court decided that a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Richmond Hill and a former detective will not go to a jury trial.

The mother of 14-year-old Sydney Sanders, who took her own life just over six years ago, filed the suit, claiming the city and detective's actions played a part in the teen's suicide.

According to the wrongful death suit, Sydney attempted suicide once but survived.  Responding officer Doug Sahlberg showed pictures of the girl's wounds to his own daughter who then shared them with her classmates. Within days of returning to school after the suicide attempt, the suit claimed Sydney committed suicide due to the teasing from her classmates.

The Supreme Court decided that Georgia law states "suicide is an unforeseeable intervening cause of death which absolves the tortfeasor of liability" so the family cannot take the city and or the former officer to a jury trial.

Feelings of disappointment, anger and devastation are just a few of the emotions bombarding Laura Maia since the high court revealed their opinion, keeping her daughter's case from going to a jury trial.

As Maia looked over her daughter's grave, she thought about missed milestone's. Sydney would've celebrated her 21st birthday next month.

"You think it's not going to bother you, but it does. Because it's just another one of those big days that she should've been here, and the plans that we had made, and the things we look forward to... so, it's hard," Maia said.

Sydney was 14 years old when she took her own life in April of 2011.

Maia filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the City of Richmond Hill and the detective investigating Sydney's first suicide attempt just months before she died, alleging the detective showed intentional, reckless, extreme and outrageous behavior and his and the city's negligence and misconduct led to Sanders' wrongful death.

Maia says the goal was to get her daughter's case in front of a jury. So, for six years, she's waited for that decision to be made.

"That's why we were hoping to get it into a trial, so her whole story and the truth could come out about the last day of her life. The police were very involved, even the last day of her life, and some things that went on. And I'm hoping that even if we didn't make it to a jury trial, I do know that there are other avenues that I will be able to go down now that the six years are over with of sitting back and being quiet," she said.

Maia said in the meantime, she'll continue her work to raise suicide prevention awareness, and scholarship funds to help teens in need.

"I think that hopefully, creating this awareness and making suicide more real instead of brushing it under the rug in years to come that we'll be able to make a difference. And when someone says 'suicide' or calls out to someone, hopefully, we'll be able to say, here's a number, here's how we can help, or what can we do to help," Maia said.

Maia's attorney, Carl Varnedoe, said an open-records request by a newspaper seeking pictures of Sanders held by Richmond Hill Police revealed a Georgia law he's hoping to change.

Varnedoe said currently, Georgia law doesn't protect images of minors or their parents that could be obtained from filing an open-records request.

The city attorney for Richmond Hill told WTOC they agree with the Supreme Court's interpretation of the law in the 8-1 ruling.

You can read the entire ruling below:

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