The family of a former Richmond man who died after a Lancaster County boating accident has reached a $4 million settlement in a lawsuit against the man they blame for his death and his parents.
“I am sorry for your loss, and it is significant,” Richmond Circuit Judge Joi Taylor told members of Graham McCormick’s family Monday at a brief hearing where the judge accepted the settlement.
In their roles as administrators of his estate, McCormick’s parents sued his friend John Randolph Hooper in November, accusing him of wrecking a vessel on a bulkhead in August while he was under the influence of alcohol, sending McCormick into the water and then leaving him behind.
Hooper, a 32-year-old Richmonder, denied the allegations in court filings. Hooper, known as Rand Hooper, did say he sensed the boat hit something during the incident but he added he doesn’t recall what happened or who was operating the boat when it crashed.
The McCormick lawsuit accused Hooper and his parents, Gary and Lucy Hooper, of deliberately trying to cover up the accident, allegations that all three Hoopers denied in court filings.
McCormick, a corporate finance analyst at SunTrust Bank in Atlanta, was 31 when he died. Gregory Habeeb, an attorney for the McCormick family, said during Monday’s proceedings that Graham was “an amazing young man.” Habeeb added that McCormick had a promising career ahead of him.
“Of course, that’s been snuffed out,” Habeeb said.
Under the settlement finalized Monday, three insurance companies will pay a total of $4 million on Rand Hooper’s behalf. In return, McCormick’s estate is releasing Hooper and his parents of any liability over his death.
“Our sympathies are going to be with the McCormicks,” Justin Guthrie, an attorney for Rand Hooper, said after the court hearing. “Hopefully, the settlement of this matter will help bring closure to this tragic episode.”
Christine Williams, an attorney for Gary and Lucy Hooper, said she’s pleased that the civil litigation is resolved, adding that the case involves an “extremely tragic situation.”
McCormick had been visiting friends at the Lancaster County home of Hooper’s parents while the elder Hoopers were traveling in Africa. McCormick’s body was found in Carter Creek off the Rappahannock River around 11:30 a.m. Aug. 11. About an hour earlier, McCormick was reported missing from the Hooper home, which is nearly 2 miles from the crash site, according to the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office.
Several days after McCormick’s body was recovered, detectives spotted damage to Gary Hooper’s 1999 Boston Whaler powerboat docked at his Irvington home, Lancaster sheriff’s investigators said in court documents. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries did an accident reconstruction and concluded the boat had been in a crash near where McCormick’s body was found.
Although he said he did not know how the accident happened, Rand Hooper said in his court filings that he did recall taking the vessel to his parents’ home after the accident.
McCormick’s parents, Burke McCormick and Sallie Graham of Richmond, were at Monday’s hearing, as were Graham’s brother Gordon McCormick and sister Catherine McCormick. The Hoopers were not at the proceedings.
“Graham was just such a wonderful son, and it leaves such a hole in our family, in our hearts, it’s hard to describe,” Burke McCormick said after the hearing. “This is some closure, but not much. We’re hurting.”
Burke McCormick noted that Graham’s death happened just 18 months after one of his brothers, 25-year-old Will McCormick, died following a battle with brain cancer. Their mother said the family had time to prepare for Will’s death but with the loss of her other son, it was a different story.
“To have just some closure of the whole process is what will allow us to grieve, as we should,” Sally Graham said after Monday’s hearing. “I think we’ve gotten some closure. It’s a chapter that’s closed.”
Lancaster Commonwealth’s Attorney Jan Smith in March withdrew a misdemeanor criminal charge against Rand Hooper that said he failed to promptly report the boating accident.
Smith said he expected to pursue other charges in the case, but he declined to comment on what those might be.
“Right now, we are in the wait mode for that phase of the case,” Matt Broughton, an attorney for the McCormick family, said after Monday’s hearing.