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Man Pleads Guilty to Assault in Girlfriend's...

Posted May 13, 1997

— A college freshman arrested after his girlfriend plunged five stories down an elevator shaft has pleaded guilty to assault.

Thomas Henry Suddarth III, 19, pleaded guilty to a charge of assault on a female in the Jan. 26 accident that seriously injured Evelyn L. Bankov, 18.

Prosecutors agreed to dismiss the charge if Suddarth pays a $130 fine, does 72 hours of community service and stays out of trouble from now until July 21, when he returns to Orange County District Court.

The agreement satisfied Bankov and her attorney, Wade Byrd of Fayetteville, who said he intended to file a negligence suit against Suddarth and ``all the people who were responsible for that elevator.''

Suddarth admitted to police that he pushed Bankov during an argument at Granville Towers, a private dormitory where both lived near the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said District Attorney Carl Fox.

She fell back against an elevator door, which unexpectedly opened, sending her tumbling down the shaft. Suddarth climbed five stories down the shaft to help her until rescue crews arrived.

Bankov's injuries included a compound fracture of her left leg.

State records show the elevator had a history of door problems, specifically popping off its track at the bottom.

If Suddarth had pleaded guilty or been convicted of assault, his insurance company likely would not have been liable for civil damages, said Fox. That's because an assault is an intentional act under the law, and insurance covers only accidents.

``This is a better result for her,'' Fox said.

Fox said he was willing to defer prosecution in part because he could find no evidence of criminal intent on Suddarth's part.

Copyright ©1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or distributed.

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