by Matthew T. Clarke
On September 13, 2005, the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC) filed an appeal of a workers compensation arbitrators decision to grant ex-prison warden William Barham permanent total disabilities benefits. Barhams injuries stem from a fatal one-vehicle accident for which he was convicted of reckless homicide and aggravated DUI and sentenced to four years in prison. Killed in the wreck was prison employee Jerry Isom. After Barham had served about 15 months of prison time, a state appellate court overturned the conviction. [PLN, Aug. 2004, p. 18]. Barham, 52, then filed for the disability payments of $863.45 per week for the rest of his life.
The disability case went to arbitration. The arbitrator ruled that the intoxicated Barham was performing a work-related activity when he wrecked the car on October 14, 2000. In addition to the $863.45 per week for life, Illinois was ordered to pay $42,000 in medical expenses and $863.45 per week for the 158 weeks from the day following the accident until Barham achieved maximum medical improvement for a total back payment of $178,425.
Prior to the accident, Barham had used a state vehicle to travel from Shawnee Correctional Center to Harrisburg to pick up then DOC director Donald Snyder at the airport. Barham and Isom drove Snyder to a one-hour appearance at a political fundraiser at Southeastern Illinois College, then returned him to the airport. Barham and Isom then drove the Lakeside Bar and Grill in Johnson County, where they stayed for over four hours. The accident occurred on the return trip to the prison from Lakeside when Barham missed a curve and hit a tree on Illinois 147 about a half-mile north of Simpson. The states position had been that the trip to Lakeside was a deviation from states business that disqualified Barham from receiving benefits. Apparently chauffeuring prison bosses around the state to political fundraisers is state business.
Arbitrator John Dibble disagreed, writing that Barham had been on the job all evening and, even if the detour to Lakeside was a deviation from states business, the deviation ended when Barham began his journey back to the prison. Dibble held that there was no conclusive evidence about who was driving. However, Michael Henshaw, the district judge who convicted Barham, said claims that Isom was driving were preposterous.
Isoms widow, Lori Isom, said, I dont understand why the arbitrator didnt find any evidence that showed clearly that Bill Barham was driving the car. Either they didnt submit the state police reconstructionist report or the arbitrator chose not to read it. In that report was the testimony of first responders and witnesses on the scene that showed Bill Barham was behind the wheel at the time of the accident. It seems like the only evidence the arbitrator looked at was Barhams version of what happened.
Henshaw said that believing there was a possibility that Isom was driving goes beyond all scientific belief and it goes beyond all common belief.
The appeal will be decided by a three-commissioner panel of the Illinois Workers Compensation Commission. Until they make a decision, all of Barhams benefits are on hold.
Lori Isom also filed for benefits, but has yet to receive any after eighteen months of waiting. She has also filed a wrongful death suit against Barham and Illinois. It is scheduled for trial in the Saline County Circuit Court. Maybe shell get justice there because, apparently when it comes to wardens, the Illinois appellate courts and arbitrators wont give it to her.
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