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Justice for Sarah: Robertsdale family endures three-year journey for truth

An in-depth article about our wrongful death case involving the Anderson family. 

By John Underwood

ROBERTSDALE, Alabama — A nearly three-year journey to get to the truth behind their daughter’s accident has finally come to an end for a Robertsdale family.

On Nov. 10, 2009, Robertsdale High School graduate and Auburn University student Sarah Anderson was killed in a traffic accident on Interstate 85 between Auburn and Montgomery.

“We were told that there were two accidents,” David Anderson said.

First, that Sarah’s car had hydroplaned, she lost control of the vehicle and it overturned, ejecting her from the vehicle and killing her. Then we were told that an 18-wheeler had struck the car after she was ejected from the vehicle.

They would learn later that the original accident report filed by the trooper stated that Sarah was not wearing a seatbelt and was ejected from the vehicle.

Even in his grief, David Anderson said, he knew something was wrong about the information they were being given.

“I knew that in order for her to be ejected from the vehicle, she couldn’t have been wearing her seatbelt, and that was just not right,” he said. “This man didn’t know my daughter, but I did. I knew that Sarah would never have gotten behind the wheel unless she was wearing her seat belt. If we went somewhere and I was driving, we would not make it out of the driveway before she demanded that I put on my seatbelt. It just wasn’t at all like Sarah not to be wearing her seatbelt.”

So Anderson made a call to his personal attorney and longtime friend Barry Friedman of Mobile.

“I told him what happened and that I knew what they were saying just wasn’t right,” Anderson said. “I knew we had to find out the truth and I asked him what we needed to do. He said all I needed to do was to get Sarah home and to get the car to a secure location that he would take care of it from there.”

And he did. What followed was a journey that would take more than 2 1/2 years, a journey to not only get to the truth about Sarah’s accident, but to also get the information changed on the trooper’s accident report.

“It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life,” David Anderson said. “It’s one thing to know the truth. It’s another thing all together to prove it.”

They were able to learn through forensic evidence that Sarah had bruises on her body consistent with someone who was wearing a seatbelt.

They were also able to have Sarah’s vehicle shipped, wrapped in plastic, to a secure location where it was stored.

Anderson knew that a data recorder in the vehicle, a “black box” much like those on an airplane, would give them more than enough information to prove that Sarah was in fact wearing her seatbelt that night.

The recorder showed that Sarah’s airbag did not deploy in the first accident, but only deployed after the car was hit by the 18-wheeler.

“That wouldn’t have happened unless Sarah was wearing her seatbelt at the time of the first accident,” David Anderson said. “It proved that Sarah was wearing her seatbelt and she was not ejected from the vehicle.”

So how was it that Sarah was found outside the vehicle?

When they had gathered enough evidence from the data recorder to make their case, Barry and his son Josh hired a friend of Josh’s, Mobile attorney Bryan Comer with Tobias, McCormick & Comer, to represent the Andersons in a lawsuit against the truck driver and the trucking company who hired him.

What followed was more than a year and a half of tracking down evidence and witnesses in the case.

It was one of those witnesses, a truck driver who had come along earlier before the second truck hit Sarah’s vehicle, who would provide a key piece of evidence in the case.

He said that he had seen a girl walking around outside the vehicle with her cell phone lit to alert oncoming traffic. Though he did not see her face, he was able to describe what the girl was wearing and when shown a photo of Sarah, along with her clothing, he was able to positively identify the person he had seen as Sarah Anderson.

It turns out that Sarah Anderson had survived the first accident, was awake and alert enough to get herself out of the vehicle and was trying to get her friend out of the passenger side of the vehicle when the second truck hit the vehicle killing Sarah.

The driver of the second truck had lied about hitting Sarah.

“It was out of pure fear,” David Anderson said. “He was scared to death, so he lied.”

The Andersons eventually would settle out of court with the trucking company and, more importantly, with the help of Baldwin County Sheriff Huey “Hoss” Mack and others, were able to get the accident report changed.

“I give (Mack) a lot of credit for helping us,” David Anderson said.

Through Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey, the state attorney general’s office conducted a full investigation and cleared Sarah Anderson of any wrongdoing in the accident.

For David Anderson, Comer gets full credit for getting Sarah’s name cleared in the case.

“It was all him,” he said. “He was able to track down all the information and get all the evidence we needed to make a case.”

Comer, however, gives David Anderson all the credit for not giving up on his daughter.

“I have never met a man so sure of something and so determined to prove it even though everyone was telling him what he knew to be true was wrong,” Comer said.

Anderson concedes that he and Comer fed off of each other’s determination.

“I pushed him when he needed it, and he pushed me when I needed it,” he said.

In the end, what is important for the Andersons is that three long years later, they can finally start the healing process.

“We’re just now trying to decompress from all of this,” Anderson said. “I have been so focused for so long on getting this done. There was just no alternative. I knew the truth and I had to prove it.”

David and Linda Anderson have also worked tirelessly since Sarah’s death to keep her dreams alive.

In 2010, the Pi Chapter of Kappa Kappa Psi National honorary band fraternity created the Sarah Darrell Anderson Memorial Scholarship, which is given annually to a member of the Auburn University Bands.

In April of 2010, the first Live, Laugh, Love Run was held to raise funds for the scholarship. Since then, four races have been held, the last in October of 2012.

Not only has money been raised to benefit the Auburn band program, funds raised have also benefitted high school music programs in the Auburn-Opelika area.

If you would like to donate to the Sarah Anderson Memorial Scholarship, contact Mary Baird, director of Development with the Auburn University College of Liberal Arts, 323 Biggin Hall, Auburn, AL 36849-5223, call 334-844-1141 or email bairdmk@auburn.edu. Checks should be made out to “Sarah Anderson Memorial Endowment Scholarship Fund,” or you can donate online via PayPal. Through their attorney, Barry Friedman, the Andersons have set up a separate Sarah Darrell Anderson Memorial Fund, which supports a scholarship at RHS and supports an orphanage in Haiti. For more information about how to donate to the fund, contact Friedman at 251-439-7400.

Giles Varden, a writer with Mobile Bay Monthly magazine, is also in the process of writing a book entitled “Sarah’s Touch.” When finished, all proceeds from the book will be donated to the memorial fund.

It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, it’s one thing to know the truth. It’s another thing all together to prove it. - David Anderson

They were able to learn through forensic evidence that Sarah had bruises on her body consistent with someone who was wearing a seatbelt.

They were also able to have Sarah’s vehicle shipped, wrapped in plastic, to a secure location where it was stored.

Anderson knew that a data recorder in the vehicle, a “black box” much like those on an airplane, would give them more than enough information to prove that Sarah was in fact wearing her seatbelt that night.

The recorder showed that Sarah’s airbag did not deploy in the first accident, but only deployed after the car was hit by the 18-wheeler.

“That wouldn’t have happened unless Sarah was wearing her seatbelt at the time of the first accident,” David Anderson said. “It proved that Sarah was wearing her seatbelt and she was not ejected from the vehicle.”

So how was it that Sarah was found outside the vehicle?

When they had gathered enough evidence from the data recorder to make their case, Barry and his son Josh hired a friend of Josh’s, Mobile attorney Bryan Comer with Tobias, McCormick & Comer, to represent the Andersons in a lawsuit against the truck driver and the trucking company who hired him.

What followed was more than a year and a half of tracking down evidence and witnesses in the case.

It was one of those witnesses, a truck driver who had come along earlier before the second truck hit Sarah’s vehicle, who would provide a key piece of evidence in the case.

He said that he had seen a girl walking around outside the vehicle with her cell phone lit to alert oncoming traffic. Though he did not see her face, he was able to describe what the girl was wearing and when shown a photo of Sarah, along with her clothing, he was able to positively identify the person he had seen as Sarah Anderson.

It turns out that Sarah Anderson had survived the first accident, was awake and alert enough to get herself out of the vehicle and was trying to get her friend out of the passenger side of the vehicle when the second truck hit the vehicle killing Sarah.

The driver of the second truck had lied about hitting Sarah.

“It was out of pure fear,” David Anderson said. “He was scared to death, so he lied.”

The Andersons eventually would settle out of court with the trucking company and, more importantly, with the help of Baldwin County Sheriff Huey “Hoss” Mack and others, were able to get the accident report changed.

“I give (Mack) a lot of credit for helping us,” David Anderson said.

Through Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey, the state attorney general’s office conducted a full investigation and cleared Sarah Anderson of any wrongdoing in the accident.

For David Anderson, Comer gets full credit for getting Sarah’s name cleared in the case.

“It was all him,” he said. “He was able to track down all the information and get all the evidence we needed to make a case.”

Comer, however, gives David Anderson all the credit for not giving up on his daughter.

“I have never met a man so sure of something and so determined to prove it even though everyone was telling him what he knew to be true was wrong,” Comer said.

Anderson concedes that he and Comer fed off of each other’s determination.

“I pushed him when he needed it, and he pushed me when I needed it,” he said.

In the end, what is important for the Andersons is that three long years later, they can finally start the healing process.

“We’re just now trying to decompress from all of this,” Anderson said. “I have been so focused for so long on getting this done. There was just no alternative. I knew the truth and I had to prove it.”

David and Linda Anderson have also worked tirelessly since Sarah’s death to keep her dreams alive.

In 2010, the Pi Chapter of Kappa Kappa Psi National honorary band fraternity created the Sarah Darrell Anderson Memorial Scholarship, which is given annually to a member of the Auburn University Bands.

In April of 2010, the first Live, Laugh, Love Run was held to raise funds for the scholarship. Since then, four races have been held, the last in October of 2012.

Not only has money been raised to benefit the Auburn band program, funds raised have also benefitted high school music programs in the Auburn-Opelika area.

If you would like to donate to the Sarah Anderson Memorial Scholarship, contact Mary Baird, director of Development with the Auburn University College of Liberal Arts, 323 Biggin Hall, Auburn, AL 36849-5223, call 334-844-1141 or email bairdmk@auburn.edu. Checks should be made out to “Sarah Anderson Memorial Endowment Scholarship Fund,” or you can donate online via PayPal. Through their attorney, Barry Friedman, the Andersons have set up a separate Sarah Darrell Anderson Memorial Fund, which supports a scholarship at RHS and supports an orphanage in Haiti. For more information about how to donate to the fund, contact Friedman at 251-439-7400.

Giles Varden, a writer with Mobile Bay Monthly magazine, is also in the process of writing a book entitled “Sarah’s Touch.” When finished, all proceeds from the book will be donated to the memorial fund.

I have never met a man so sure of something and so determined to prove it even though everyone was telling him what he knew to be true was wrong. - Comer

Anderson concedes that he and Comer fed off of each other’s determination.

“I pushed him when he needed it, and he pushed me when I needed it,” he said.

In the end, what is important for the Andersons is that three long years later, they can finally start the healing process.

“We’re just now trying to decompress from all of this,” Anderson said. “I have been so focused for so long on getting this done. There was just no alternative. I knew the truth and I had to prove it.”

David and Linda Anderson have also worked tirelessly since Sarah’s death to keep her dreams alive.

In 2010, the Pi Chapter of Kappa Kappa Psi National honorary band fraternity created the Sarah Darrell Anderson Memorial Scholarship, which is given annually to a member of the Auburn University Bands.

In April of 2010, the first Live, Laugh, Love Run was held to raise funds for the scholarship. Since then, four races have been held, the last in October of 2012.

Not only has money been raised to benefit the Auburn band program, funds raised have also benefitted high school music programs in the Auburn-Opelika area.

If you would like to donate to the Sarah Anderson Memorial Scholarship, contact Mary Baird, director of Development with the Auburn University College of Liberal Arts, 323 Biggin Hall, Auburn, AL 36849-5223, call 334-844-1141 or email bairdmk@auburn.edu. Checks should be made out to “Sarah Anderson Memorial Endowment Scholarship Fund,” or you can donate online via PayPal. Through their attorney, Barry Friedman, the Andersons have set up a separate Sarah Darrell Anderson Memorial Fund, which supports a scholarship at RHS and supports an orphanage in Haiti. For more information about how to donate to the fund, contact Friedman at 251-439-7400.

Giles Varden, a writer with Mobile Bay Monthly magazine, is also in the process of writing a book entitled “Sarah’s Touch.” When finished, all proceeds from the book will be donated to the memorial fund.