The family of murdered real estate agent Beverly Carter is suing the company where she had been a top seller, claiming that the Crye-Leike company is partly to blame for her death by not making sure that she had sufficient safety training and equipment.
The wrongful-death suit, filed near the third anniversary of her September 2014 kidnapping and killing, says the company had a duty to protect independent contractors like Carter. She had been a regular multimillion-dollar seller for the agency, though her sales had been slumping when she was killed because she had had to take significant time off from work to recover from surgery.
Crye-Leike Inc. failed to live up to its obligations by not providing the instruction and tools necessary to make sure its agents were safe, particularly when meeting with prospective clients outside the office, according to the six-page lawsuit.
Carter, 50, was murdered by a Jacksonville man who, with his wife, posed as cash-paying customers to lure her to a remote house in England so they could kidnap her for ransom. The couple deliberately sought out a real estate agent because they knew they could get her alone.
But their plan fell apart almost immediately, and Carter was smothered, then buried in woods behind a concrete plant near Cabot out of fear that she could identify her captors.
The plaintiffs in the suit are Carter's immediate family -- her husband and two surviving sons -- and her estate. They are seeking compensatory damages for their pain, suffering and loss. They have petitioned Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox for a jury trial.
After Carter's slaying, the family established a foundation in her name to promote safe practices in the real estate industry. The family operates a website at beverlycarterfoundation.org.
Her oldest son, Carl Carter Jr., has traveled the country speaking about agents' safety and protection. He, his wife, Kim, and his brother Chad are sales associates for Re/Max Elite in North Little Rock.
After her death, the Arkansas Realtors Association set up a safety task force to develop training and best practices, which includes promoting the Carter family's "Beverly Carter Safety Certified Office" program. Real estate brokers nationwide have embraced the program.
Family attorney Bryce Brewer did not return a call seeking comment Thursday. The defendants, Arkansas-based companies Crye-Leike and Crye-Leike of Arkansas, have not responded to the lawsuit.
The 40-year-old company, founded in Memphis, is the fifth-largest real estate company in the nation, operates in nine mid-South states and Puerto Rico, with 21 offices in Arkansas. Another four offices are franchises.
Experts have said Carter's death was quick but excruciating. Authorities said her killer, Aaron Lewis, had wrapped her head completely in green duct tape, creating "a ... mask of death," to kill her because he knew that sheriff's deputies were closing in on him.
Convicted in a trial in January 2016, Lewis is serving two life terms for capital murder and kidnapping. His wife, Crystal Lowery, testified against him in an arrangement with prosecutors. She was sentenced to 30 years in prison for first-degree murder and kidnapping. She will be eligible to apply for parole in November 2035.
On Lewis' cellphone, investigators found a 12-second recording that was intended for Carter's husband to hear. In it, Carter begs him to cooperate with her abductors without calling police, or "it could be bad."
Lowery told jurors that she and Lewis chose Carter because they needed money and thought she was rich. They spent two weeks planning to kidnap a woman for ransom, someone who was married and financially stable to ensure that they got paid. They had hoped to get $100,000.
Lewis planned to have the victim's spouse deposit the money in a bank account that he would access with electronic debit cards that he would forge. Lewis planned to hold Carter at the concrete plant until he and Lowery received the money.
Lowery said they decided to abduct a real estate agent because they wanted someone who worked alone. She testified that Lewis chose Carter and researched her on Facebook.
Lowery said she spoke with Carter on the day of the abduction because Lewis wanted to assure Carter that she was dealing with a husband and wife who were planning to pay cash for a new home.
Later, Lewis texted Lowery a photo of Carter in the trunk of the car he had put her in, Lowery told jurors at the trial. Carter was lying on her side bound at the wrists in green tape with more tape covering her face, she said. Lowery said she deleted the photo because she didn't want to get caught with it.
Lewis gave up on hiding Carter at the concrete plant and took her, blindfolded and bound, to the couple's Jacksonville home, where he told Lowery that Carter did not have ransom money. Lowery said they put Carter in their bathroom while Lewis went back to the house where he'd abducted her to get her purse and debit card.
Lewis gave Lowery an electronic stun gun to use on Carter if she tried to escape while he was gone, Lowery testified, telling jurors that she was alone with Carter for at least 30 minutes. But Carter stayed quiet and did not make any attempt to get away.
When Lewis returned empty-handed after finding sheriff's deputies searching the area where they had kidnapped Carter, the couple decided Carter had to die, Lowery testified. Lewis knew that Carter had seen his face and worried that she could identify the couple's home, Lowery told jurors. Lowery said she was afraid that Carter might have seen something with Lowery's name on it in the bathroom.
Lewis didn't tell her where he was taking Carter, Lowery said. When he returned home the morning after the kidnapping, he told Lowery that he had killed Carter, she testified. Lewis said he had strangled her, Lowery told jurors. Lewis said he was surprised by how long it took to kill her, Lowery said.
The night after the abduction, the couple purchased a shovel to use to bury Carter. Lowery said they drove to the concrete plant, and Lewis led her to the woman's body. She described how she could see Carter's hands still bound with green tape.
Lowery said she used her phone as a flashlight for Lewis while he spent about 15 minutes digging a hole next to Carter's body. Lowery told jurors that Lewis pulled the body into the hole, then pulled the body into it and covered it with dirt.
Lewis made a series of incriminating statements to investigators and news reporters. At his trial, he claimed that Carter had gone with him willingly for a consensual sexual encounter with him and Lowery that they had arranged over the Internet.
He told jurors that Lowery had accidentally suffocated Carter during a sexual mishap, and that all he had done was to hide the woman's body to protect his wife. He said he put the tape over Carter's face after she died to protect her from insects. Lewis told jurors that the cellphone recording had been created with a computer.
Metro on 10/13/2017
Print Headline: Family alleges firm liable in Realtor death