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Clark County woman sues Topix users for slander

September 20, 2012|By Fred Petke | The Winchester Sun

The mother of a 9-year-old boy who died in an accident 13 months ago has filed a lawsuit against nine Topix.com users on the website for slander and libel in the wake of the crash.

Kelly Goff, who also is serving as administratrix of her son William Whitt Goff’s estate, filed the suit in Clark Circuit Court in August, shortly before the one year anniversary of the crash on Elkin Station Road.

According to the suit, William Whitt Goff and two other boys were riding dirt bikes along Elkin Station Road on the evening of Aug. 19, 2011. At the time, Clark County Sheriff Berl Perdue Jr. said Goff’s motorcycle was struck by a pickup truck. The driver, identified in the suit as Phillip A. Heil, lost control of the truck, overturned and struck the motorcycle. William Goff was pronounced dead at the scene.

Heil and his father, Richard Heil, also are named as defendants in the suit as the driver and owner of the truck, respectively.

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The website itself was not named as a defendant in the suit.

The day after the crash, Kelly Goff said comments about the crash and her began appearing on Topix.com, a website that allows people to post comments anonymously or under user names. In the complaint, Kelly Goff said multiple people began posting statements alleging that she did not supervise her children and that she was frequently intoxicated.

The suit quotes one post from a user named “Winchester Native” that said Kelly Goff was guilty of child abuse and cost her son his life. The same user also posted comments that “... the majority of the blame falls on the parents” and that “if his parents paid more attention to keeping their kids safe and less attention to their bottles of beer ... there’s a good chance little Whitt would still be alive.”

The complaint details other posts from users “Saw It Myself,” “Mike,” “Dennis,” “Curt,” “What,” “Christian,” “Enough BS” and one that used Kelly Goff’s name. All the statements made, she said, were libelous, slanderous and untrue.

She is seeking punitive and compensatory damages for the users’ comments and an order from the court for Topix to release the identities of those users. She also is seeking damages for the loss of her son.

According to court documents, Topix.com received a certified letter notifying the company of the lawsuit, but the company has not yet responded.

The Heils filed their response earlier this month and acknowledged that the accident occurred, but denied other allegations contained in the lawsuit.

Others have sued Topix users in similar cases, including one case in Ashland concerning statements made against a local pastor.

In April, a jury in Texas awarded a couple $13.78 million in damages from a defamation suit involving Topix. During that case, the judge ordered Topix to turn over identifying information about the users, including their IP addresses. Five users were eventually identified and ordered to pay the couple. Their original lawsuit listed 178 usernames, according to news reports.

According to the website, Topix LLC is a privately held company based in Palo Alto, Calif., with investment from three major media organizations: Gannett Co., Inc., The McClatchy Company and Tribune Company.

Contact Fred Petke at fpetke@winchestersun.com.

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