Family of missing man in Collier County ruled against in wrongful death lawsuit

Reporter: Justin Kase Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:

A decision was made that makes it nearly impossible for a family to get compensation for the death of their loved one — even with the story having made national headlines and celebrities such as Tyler Perry offering money to help.

Terrance Williams’ family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Steve Calkins, a former Collier County deputy.

The case was heard by a court appointed arbitrator, who made a decision against the family Wednesday, citing a lack of evidence.

The case was supposed to be heading to trial, but the attorneys representing the family forgot to file the motion for trial in time, so that means the arbitrator’s decision is now final.

Almost 17 years ago, Williams was last seen at a cemetery after he was pulled over by then deputy Calkins in Collier County.

Williams has been missing since that happened.

According to unsealed court documents, witnesses saw Calkins put Williams in the back of his car and drive away. They said Calkins returned later and moved Williams’ car to the side of the road.

Investigators discovered Calkins called a tow truck company for the car and had the towing records sent to himself rather than to Collier County Sheriff’s Office.

During the investigation, detectives learned another man, Felipe Santos, also went missing three months before Williams, who was last seen by Calkins during a similar encounter.

“The idea of suing for wrongful death, which has already happened, that’s over and done,” said attorney Pamella Seay, an FGCU justice studies professor.

Seay, a legal expert who is not affiliated with the case, says the attorneys representing Williams’ family would have had an opportunity to argue the case during trial if they filed their motion in time. Now, the only way this case sees a courtroom is if criminal charges are filed.

“If he committed a murder, there is no statute of limitations on a murder,” Seay explained. “And since he’s not been prosecuted for that, then, there can be a prosecution later on.”

We reached out to Williams’ mother about the decision, who referred us to her attorney. We reached out to attorneys on both sides of the lawsuit, and we are still waiting to hear back from them.

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