STATE ROAD — Officials aren’t commenting about a lawsuit alleging members of the State Road Volunteer Fire Department acted negligently in their inaction surrounding the suicide of a young woman in 2014.
In March, Terena Dawn Wood filed a suit naming fire department officials and a couple who she says failed to properly act when her daughter, Megan Danielle Wood, presented clear signs of suicidal thoughts. County emergency services are also named in the suit.
At the center of Terena Wood’s suit is a couple, Michael and Rhonda Cochran, who she claims were both members of the volunteer fire department when Megan Wood took her own life on May 25, 2014.
At the time of her death, Megan Wood was a 26-year-old recent college graduate in the process of applying to master’s degree programs, according to the complaint filed in Superior Court. She was living in Elkin and working at an insurance company.
That’s where she had her first encounter with Rhonda Cochran, the complaint alleges. Rhonda Cochran, who had an “open marriage,” met Megan Wood and “was attracted to her.” “Defendant Rhonda Cochran thereafter told her husband, Defendant Michael Cochran, to stop by the insurance company, meet Megan, and suggested that he seduce her into Defendant Cochran’s marital bed.”
The claim alleges Michael Cochran then engaged in a sexual relationship, with his wife’s consent and “encouragement,” with Megan Wood. He also sent Wood sexually explicit text messages.
Wood claims officials from the volunteer fire department knew of the relationship, and the relationship was in violation of the department’s bylaws.
Michael Cochran’s relationship with Megan Wood continued, according to the court documents. On or about May 24, 2014, he suggested their sexual relationship go to another level.
“Defendant Michael Cochran advised Megan that both of Defendants Cochran wanted Defendant Rhonda Cochran to engage in bi-sexual, lesbian and group sexual activity with Megan and even suggested to Megan that she invite her mother…to engage in such activities as well,” reads the complaint.
Megan Wood turned down the proposal and directed the Cochrans to leave her apartment, according to the complaint.
The next day, May 25, 2014, Megan Wood called the Cochrans, who were in Charlotte. She was “upset and distraught over the revelation by Defendants Cochran of their proposed sexual relationship and activities.”
The call came at 8:27 p.m., and Megan Wood informed the Cochrans she was drinking vodka and taking prescription drugs in excess of prescribed limits, Wood alleges. She also noted she planned to kill herself with a 12-gauge shotgun she kept at her apartment.
Wood alleges the Cochrans, as trained emergency response personnel, should have acted. Instead, they failed to call Surry County authorities, who could have responded to Megan Wood’s residence. Instead, they remained on the phone with Megan Wood until she shot herself in the chest more than 90 minutes after she first called the Cochrans.
Part of Wood’s claim, which seeks more than $25,000 in damages, is for wrongful death. She alleges the Cochrans, one of which was an emergency medical technician, ignored their training, failed to act, violated fire department policies and, thus, failed to stop the suicide of her daughter, who had suffered from depression for more than 10 years.
When Megan Wood relied on the Cochrans to carry out their official duties as emergency responders, they failed her, alleges the suit.
EMT for sex offender
In addition to the wrongful death claim, Wood is suing the fire department for negligently hiring Michael Cochran.
Cochran was given a suspended sentence and probation for two counts of indecent liberties with a child in 1999. Thus, he was placed on the state’s sex offender registry.
According to the complaint, fire department personnel aided Cochran in his lobbying attempts to be removed from the sex offender registry so he could become an emergency medical technician (EMT) and work for the department.
The complaint alleges the department even enforced extra guidelines for Cochran, not allowing him to be alone with any female patients. In short, the department, which is supposed to provide qualified and trained personnel to work as emergency responders, failed to do so when it bent the rules for Cochran. The department, its personnel and county EMS personnel who trained Cochran “violated the standard of care” as set forth in N.C. Administrative Code.
“Defendant Michael Cochran was neither competent nor qualified to be certified as an EMT-Basic and hired by the SRVFD (State Road Volunteer Fire Department) at the time of his hiring because he was a convicted felony sex offender,” reads the complaint.
The complaint states Cochran was granted his EMT certification and hired by the department in “direct violation” of North Carolina statute.
It goes on to state officials later failed to terminate Cochran, even after learning of his “predatory sexual conduct toward Megan.”
“Megan’s death was negligent as well as gross, willful and/or wanton in light of the information that was or should have been accessible to such Defendants (fire and EMS officials).”
The suit also alleges State Road Assistant Chief Kevin Cheek is individually liable, since he personally accompanied Cochran on a trip to have his name removed from the sex offender registry.
County EMS personnel train emergency responders in the county. Thus, the suit alleges EMS Director John Shelton failed in his duties to the people of Surry County.
“Defendant Shelton’s breach of his duty was a cause of the death of Megan Wood.”
The third argument is the Cochrans inflicted emotional distress when they failed to act to prevent Megan Wood’s death, responding in such a way that created a situation in which Terena Dawn Wood discovered her daughter’s body. The Cochrans were sending Terena Wood Facebook messages the night of Megan Wood’s suicide.
Terena Wood, according to the complaint, has since sought medical treatment for depression.
The complaint, in its third count, once again reiterates the Cochrans were acting within the course and scope of their employment with the fire department when they failed to take appropriate action after Megan Wood alerted them of her suicidal thoughts.
Wood’s suit, which asks for a trial by jury, asks the court for damages ranging from funeral expenses to compensation for pain and suffering.
County Attorney Ed Woltz stated the claim has been turned over to the county’s liability agent.
Likewise, State Road Volunteer Fire Department Chief Brad Spicer indicated his department’s liability insurance agent had instructed him to make no comment regarding Wood’s allegations.
Michael and Rhonda Cochran were unable to be contacted for comment.
An official from the Surry County Clerk of Court’s office stated all defendants have yet to be served with the complaint. Thus, no hearing or trial date has been set in Superior Court.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.