The kidnapping and death of Barbara J. “Bobbie” Bosworth from the Springfield Mall in 2008 was one of the most horrific crimes in this region in recent memory. An innocent woman walking to her car on a Saturday afternoon was abducted at gunpoint, driven to Prince William County, forced into a convenience store to buy beer for her teenage attackers, and then killed when they crashed her car into a tree.
Bosworth’s husband, Tom Bosworth, filed a civil suit in 2010 against the owners of Springfield Mall (Vornado Realty Trust), the security company “guarding” the mall (Securitas Corp.) and the owners of the convenience store (PDQ Mart in Woodbridge), who did nothing to help Bobbie Bosworth while she was in obvious distress. The case presented a number of interesting angles on the issue of whether these businesses truly bore some responsibility for Bobbie’s death, as opposed to the actual kidnappers, 19-year-olds Lutchman Chandler (who also was killed in the crash) and Keith Baskerville, who was already severely mentally ill and is now in a state mental hospital.
The case was set for trial on Monday, but settled out of court late Wednesday.
Before it settled, though, a number of jaw-dropping revelations emerged in the two years of pretrial maneuvering:
■ The fake gun used in the case was stolen from The Sports Authority at the mall minutes earlier, and the mall claimed it was done with the help of an employee who provided a device to remove the gun from its packaging, then high-fived Chandler and Baskerville before they left the store. The lawyer for The Sports Authority declined to comment.
■ Customers in the PDQ Mart in Woodbridge said they pleaded with the store manager to call 911, or let them use his phone to call 911, because Bosworth was clearly in trouble. But during the 14 minutes Bosworth and the two teens were there, the store manager refused. The lawyer for the PDQ Mart did not return a call seeking comment.
■ Securitas argued that simply because they were the security guards for the mall they had no duty to protect Bosworth. And under Virginia law, they were right. They were dismissed as defendants. Twice. The Securitas lawyer declined to comment.
■ The mall’s general manager repeatedly told his superiors of the problems with gang violence there (Chandler and Baskerville were “Bloods” wannabes). In 2007, the manager wrote, “We have the beginnings of a gang war here in Springfield. The mall may easily become the chosen battlefield.” The lawyer for Vornado said he had no comment.
This would’ve been some trial, and forced a Fairfax County jury to balance a lot of outrageous facts with a lot of Virginia law, which says property owners are not responsible for the criminal acts of a third party. The dollar amount of the settlement is not yet public, pending a final filing.
Bobbie Bosworth was 60, a native Northern Virginian who grew up in Arlington and had been married for 24 years to the love of her life. She and Tom Bosworth lived in a carefully decorated townhouse in the Cameron Run area of Alexandria, which is where I met Tom Bosworth two days after his wife was killed. I wrote a story about their lives and their last conversation: Her phone call from the PDQ Mart on Cardinal Drive, calling him “Edward,” alerting him that something was wrong. He figured it out and called police, something the PDQ Mart manager standing in front of Bobbie Bosworth wouldn’t do.
Bobbie Bosworth was at the Springfield Mall on Sept. 13, 2008, a Saturday afternoon, because she and her husband had both lost 25 pounds on a fitness kick, and her jeans no longer fit.
Meanwhile, according to a cross-suit that Vornado filed against The Sports Authority, Chandler and Baskerville entered the mall at 12:50 p.m., walked into The Sports Authority and grabbed a replica BB gun from a front display. Vornado alleged that Fairfax County police earlier had asked the store to move the guns away from the front, but the store declined.
The two teens took the gun to the back of the store, where a video apparently showed a Sports Authority employee who “directed them to a tool or instrument he left on the shelf to open the packaging for the gun,” Vornado’s pleadings claim. The employee then gave one of the teens a high-five and walked away, Vornado alleged, adding that the gun was removed from the packaging “in 12 seconds,” and the teens left the store at 12:59 p.m.
Surveillance video in the Springfield Mall garage showed the teens entering the covered parking lot at 1:05 p.m., Vornado claimed in a separate action against Securitas. The video, including a couple of brief glimpses of the gun — but no sign of any security officers — shows them loitering about until 1:22 p.m., when they see Bosworth and force her into her burgundy Saturn sedan. The exact moment of the abduction was not caught on tape.
By September 2008, Springfield Mall was awash in crime. Its own Web site advised customers to “use caution when using ATM machines...There is safety in numbers...Lock your doors and windows when you get in and keep them locked.” Bosworth’s lawsuit lists page after page of felony assaults in the years prior to Bobbie’s abduction, and there was a gang-related homicide outside the Cerro Grande restaurant in December 2007.
Court records show that Springfield Mall general manager Michael Lowe warned Vornado that a gang war was brewing in Springfield and ”the Mall may easily become the chosen battlefield.” He wrote an e-mail to Vornado telling them that the Cerro Grande homicide was “directly linked to Cerro Grande’s operation as a nightclub catering to gang members, mostly SSL [South Side Locos] and MS 13 [Mara Salvatrucha].” Lowe said the restaurant’s own security guards wore masks “to hide their identify from their own patrons.”
In July 2008, Lowe wrote a memo criticizing Securitas for their poor staffing of the mall, and said they’d been told in November 2007 that their main problems were in the parking lots. In August 2008, a woman was assaulted and robbed in the parking lot outside Macy’s, where Bobbie Bosworth was taken a month later.
Even a week after Bosworth’s death, Lowe was outraged to find that Securitas only had one guard patrolling the exterior of the vast mall, when they were supposed to have four, court filings show.
After Chandler and Baskerville forced Bosworth back into her car and drove away, no one knows what happened in the 90 minutes before they appeared at the PDQ Mart, which is not that far down I-95 from Springfield Mall. But a surveillance video shows that Chandler walked Bosworth into the store at 2:49 p.m., they bought two six-packs of beer, and went back to the car at 2:52 p.m. That three minutes of the well-dressed woman and the shaggy teen buying beer was enough to raise suspicions in the store.
A witness testified in a deposition that she asked the store manager to call 911, but he refused. Bosworth and the teens sat in the car for seven minutes. The witness said she asked to use the manager’s phone to make the call herself. She said the manager again refused.
At 2:59 p.m., Bosworth and Chandler came back into the store to use the ATM. Bosworth called her husband twice, since she didn’t know the PIN, and called him “Edward.”
The woman witness A male customer said he went over and hugged Bosworth as if she were an old friend and quietly asked her if anything was wrong.
“Get the tag number,” Bosworth whispered back.
At 3:01 p.m., Bosworth and Chandler went back to the car. At 3:02 p.m., they drove away. The male customer decided to follow and call 911. The manager finally gave his phone to the woman witness. The male customer called 911 while following the Saturn, but the car sped away, and soon crashed into a grove of trees.
“A simple call to 911,” Bosworth’s lawyers, Peter Everett and Rob Stoney, wrote, “when Chandler first left [the store] would likely have provided sufficient time for police intervention.”
Bosworth died that day. Chandler died two days later. Baskerville survived, severely injured and previously diagnosed with mental illness. Now the courts took over.
As police dug into the case, it was decided that Prince William County would lead the investigation and handle the prosecution since Bosworth died there. Keith Baskerville, 19, was indicted for felony murder. But he had suffered a severe head injury, couldn’t speak for a time after the crash, and already had a history of schizophrenia.
After psychologists examined Baskerville, he was found incompetent to stand trial. When he couldn’t be restored to competency, prosecutors agreed to a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity in April 2010, and he now resides in a state mental hospital.
A few months after that, in August 2010, Thomas Bosworth filed his lawsuit in Fairfax County Circuit Court against the owners of Springfield Mall (Vornado Realty Trust), the security company hired to guard the mall (Securitas Corp.) and the Woodbridge convenience store (PDQ Mart) where the kidnappers, Baskerville and Lutchman Chandler, spent nearly 15 minutes with Bosworth before speeding away and crashing.
The lawsuit, filed by Fairfax attorney Peter Everett, pointed out many of the most sensational aspects that had been uncovered since the incident: That the two suspects could be seen clearly on surveillance cameras for 17 minutes in the Springfield Mall covered parking garage, apparently waiting for a victim; that the mall had been plagued by violent crime in the years before Bosworth’s abduction, even advising its customers to be careful there; and that nobody at the PDQ Mart on Cardinal Drive tried to help Bosworth, who was clearly in distress.
The lawsuit alleged that Bobbie Bosworth didn’t have to die. “But for the dereliction of the [PDQ Mart] employees, [Chandler and Baskerville] would not have gotten away from the premises,” the suit alleged.
Securitas, which calls itself “the largest security firm in the world,” responded with this argument: “Securitas did not owe Mrs. Bosworth a duty of care to protect her from the criminal acts of a third party.”
It begs the question, What does a mall security force owe a customer? Under Virginia law, the answer apparently is “Nothing.” Securitas lawyer James Walker, citing state law, wrote that “Generally, a person has no duty to control the conduct of a third person in order to prevent physical harm to another.”
A person or business can be held liable in Virginia for a third party’s acts if it has a “special relationship” with the plaintiff or third party, such as a store inviting customers to shop there, or having knowledge of a third party’s violent past.
But the plaintiff also must show there is a bad “business method” — either a climate of “assaultive” criminal activity or crime that is foreseeable and poses an imminent probability of harm, creating a “duty of care” for the defendant.
In December 2010, Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Charles Maxfield agreed with Securitas.
He found no “special relationship” between the security company and Bobbie Bosworth — that Securitas had any interaction with her or the kidnappers, knew anything about the kidnappers or or witnessed any events before or after the abduction.
Indeed, in its first response to the suit, Securitas wrote that it “does not know what the security cameras did or did not record or what action was taken by the police or security personnel on site.” That’s quality security work.
Securitas’s contract was with the mall owner, Vornado, not the customer, the judge noted.
“Never has the Virginia Supreme Court required the duty of protection to be a guarantee of security,” Maxfield wrote. “Arguably, this is in recognition of the harsh reality that crime can and does occur despite our best efforts to prevent it.”
Maxfield allowed Bosworth’s attorneys to amend and refile their suit. They pointed out that Securitas’s contract with Vornado stated that “Security guards shall have the function and duty of safeguarding the patrons of the owner’s shopping center...physical protection of patrons...prevention of assaults and robbery.” But Securitas raised the same legal arguments, and they were dismissed from the case again.
Vornado and PDQ took their best shots to win dismissals too, though their situations were different from Securitas: They had to acknowledge they had a special relationship with customers, by inviting them to shop on their property. But did they have such a crime problem that they had a "duty of care” to Bobbie Bosworth?
Vornado argued that it did not have or want an assaultive climate. “The mall does not derive any benefits from having crime on its premises and certainly does not encourage such conduct,” attorney Walter Williams wrote. “Put another way, the mall did not kill Mrs. Bosworth; the assailants did.” Chandler and Baskerville weren’t known to the mall, so their actions weren’t reasonably foreseeable.
PDQ argued that there was no legal remedy for failure to act. Customers reported that they had asked the store’s manager to call 911 while Bosworth was being held outside by the abductors, and the manager refused. PDQ’s filings do not deny that.
“There is no duty requiring a business owner or operator to take positive action to protect a business invitee from assault by third parties while the invitee is on the business premises and the assault is already in progress,” lawyer Daniel Robey wrote.
But Maxfield did not release Vornado or PDQ from the case. This led Vornado to turn around and sue Securitas, saying the security company’s contract would indemnify Vornado in the event of a lawsuit. Vornado later dropped the case, but can revive it now that there has been a settlement that will require Vornado to pay Thomas Bosworth.
Also in January of this year, Vornado sued The Sports Authority, and revealed that there was surveillance video showing Chandler and Baskerville stealing the replica BB gun they used on Bobbie Bosworth.
That suit made the claim that the video showed a store employee providing a tool which enabled the teens to pry the gun out of its plastic packaging, and that the employee high-fived one of the teens before walking away from them.
“Through its employee,” Vornado’s suit alleged, “The Sports Authority assisted, aided, abetted and otherwise was an active participant in Ms. Bosworth’s abduction.”
The Sports Authority’s lawyer said the video did not show that, and even if it did, the theft of the gun was a non-violent crime and not foreseeably linked to the subsequent crime. The Sports Authority was dismissed from the case, but the video could have made a dramatic appearance at trial, along with the surveillance video from the PDQ Mart.
The trial was set for Monday. Both sides had experts lined up. Bosworth’s lawyers, led by Everett and Rob Stoney, would have the frightening facts on their side, but would have to overcome:
• the legal arguments about “duty of care,” “assaultive crime,” “third parties” and all the criteria required in Virginia law for a plaintiff;
• the question of whether the businesses were responsible for the ultimately lethal actions of two malicious teenagers, and
• whether Bobbie Bosworth’s death could have been prevented by the mall or the convenience store.
On Wednesday, Vornado and PDQ agreed to settle, Everett said. He declined to discuss the case further, as did all of the defense lawyers. When the settlement is finalized and presented to Maxfield, the dollar amount will become public record.
Springfield Mall, meanwhile, is being gutted and made over. In March, all the tenants were given 120 days to clear out, except for Macy’s, Target and J.C. Penney, and a plan to create a town center-like complex is underway
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Copyright © 2009 Blankingship & Keith, PC.
All Rights Reserved, Reproduced with Permission.