EXCLUSIVE: Venus Williams’ lawyers want to blame BallenIsles worker in fatal crash

7:07 p.m Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018 Local
Venus Williams plays a forehand in her first round match at the 2018 Australian Open on January 15 in Melbourne, Australia. She was involved in a June 9 car crash in Palm Beach Gardens that caused the death of a 78-year-old Acreage man. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

A Jupiter woman, who works at the upscale Palm Beach Gardens community where Venus Williams lives, is likely to become a key player in the tennis great’s efforts to defeat a lawsuit that accuses her of causing a crash that led to the death of a 78-year-old Acreage man.

In court papers filed this month, lawyers for Williams said they want to blame 37-year-old Lauren Dowd-Shedlock for setting the wheels in motion for the June 9 crash on Northlake Boulevard in which Jerome Barson was fatally injured.

The crash occurred near the entrance to BallenIsles, where Dowd-Shedlock works at the community television station. It serves the development where Williams lives in a sprawling $2.3 million home.

VIDEO: Body cam video of the Venus Williams car crash

Fort Lauderdale attorneys Kevin Yomber and Patrick Dahl, who are representing Williams in a civil lawsuit that Barson’s family filed against her, are asking a Palm Beach County circuit judge to let them argue that Dowd-Shedlock was partially responsible for the crash. They aren’t suing Dowd-Shedlock. They are only suggesting she, not Williams, was negligent.

To bolster their argument, they say Dowd-Sherlock’s involvement was confirmed in December when Palm Beach Gardens police issued a final report of their investigation into the crash.

COMPLETE COVERAGE: Venus Williams car crash

In clearing Williams of wrongdoing, police said Dowd-Shedlock “started a sequence of events” that ended when Williams’ SUV crashed into a Hyundai driven by Barson’s 68-year-old wife, Linda. Jerome Barson, who was a passenger in the car, sustained traumatic injuries and died two weeks later at St. Mary’s Medical Center.

Dowd-Shedlock wasn’t charged in connection with the accident but told police she was driving the Nissan Altima captured on video from a guardhouse at the nearby Steeplechase community. The video showed Dowd-Shedlock turned left in front of Williams, forcing the athlete to stop her SUV in the intersection of Northlake and BallenIsles Drive, police said.

HANDOUT/Provide by Linda Barson
Firefighters and police respond to a June 9, 2017, crash involving tennis star Venus Williams at Northlake Boulevard and BallenIsles Drive in Palm Beach Gardens. Linda and Jerome Barson, who where in a Hyundai Accent, were involved in the crash. Jerome Barson died two weeks later. Photo Provided By Barson Family

“The surveillance video evidence is inconclusive beyond a reasonable doubt,” they wrote of Dowd-Shedlock’s involvement. However, they added, the video refuted initial reports that Williams caused the crash. “Investigation has revealed that (Williams’ SUV) did not violate the right of way of (Barson’s car) … and is supported by surveillance video,” they said.

Williams had a green light when she entered the intersection, heading north on BallenIsles Drive, police said. After stopping to avoid hitting Dowd-Shedlock’s car, she continued straight. By that time, however, the light on Northlake had turned green and Barson’s car, which was headed west on Northlake, collided with Williams’ SUV, they wrote.

If Circuit Judge James Nutt lets Williams’ attorneys amend their initial responses to the Barson family’s lawsuit, Dowd-Shedlock won’t face the threat of being slapped with a hefty judgment.

Even if the case goes to trial and a jury holds Dowd-Shedlock responsible, she wouldn’t have to pay any damages to Barson’s family because she is not a party to the lawsuit. Williams’ attorneys are also blaming Linda Barson for the crash and claim Barson died because he wasn’t wearing a seat belt.

The lawsuit, filed a week after Barson died, has been contentious. The Barsons’ attorney, Ian Duncan, successfully fought for Williams’ cell phone records in an apparent attempt to determine if she was on the phone when the crash occurred.

Williams’ attorneys countered with a request to examine Barson’s bank records. Nutt said he would grant the request unless the Barsons dropped their claims that Williams should pay for the loss of his financial support. Last week, Duncan said the family would drop that claim.