Family issues swirl around fatal fire lawsuit

Staff Writer

A Clay County man who lost the mother of his child and a daughter in a fatal apartment fire last August has asked a judge to allow him to intervene in a lawsuit over the fire.

Furthermore, 24-year-old Stefon Cox asks the judge to throw out the person who filed the original lawsuit, Darryl Dismukes, the father of the woman who died, and punish him or his attorney for filing what he calls “a blatant money grab.”

In separate motions filed this week in Clay County Circuit Court, Cox asks that he be allowed to take over the lawsuit filed against Richard and Michael Henson and Henson Construction, which owned the Layne Drive Apartment where Shayla Swain and their daughter, Serenity Cox, and an unborn child died in a fire on Aug. 1, 2018.

Investigators ruled an overloaded electrical cord started the blaze but in his lawsuit filed two weeks after the fire, Darryl Dismukes, Shayla Swain’s biological father, claims the apartment had no working smoke or fire detectors or fire extinguishers and that the Hensons knew it.

Those detectors might have allowed the family to escape, the lawsuit claims.

The Hensons have denied any wrong and said if anyone was at fault, the family’s own mistakes caused the tragedy.

Cox and the couple’s other child, Trinity Cox, escaped, but Swain rushed back in the burning apartment and up the stairs to try to get 16-month-old Serenity, who'd only recently been brought home from LeBonheur Children's Hospital after undergoing trachea surgery.

Swain got to the baby's crib but couldn't get out before being overcome by smoke. She and the child perished.
Swain was five months pregnant with their third child. Her mother died a year earlier from cancer.
Cox also has a child by another woman.

In the months since the fire, he’s been named Trinity’s guardian and a Chancery Court judge has named him the proper heir and “wrongful-death beneficiary” for Swain’s and Serenity Cox’s estates. 
Cox’s attorney, Casey Lott, of the Langston and Lott law firm in Booneville, blames part of the legal confusion on Dismukes’ attorney, Terris Harris, of Jackson.

“Not only did Mr. Harris injudiciously file a lawsuit on behalf of a disinterested party before he adequately investigated the case, he also has failed to do anything to prosecute the case since he was hired,” Lott wrote in one of the motions, claiming he’s spent “more than $25,000” to hire fire “investigators and engineers” to find the fire’s origin, other experts to review code violations, and still more experts to conduct lab inspections along with experts hired by the Hensons.

Furthermore, Dismukes, who Lotts describes as Swain’s “estranged father,” never sought custody or guardianship and initially didn’t try to be appointed administrator of Swain’s estate.

“Dislikes now desires to sit in the driver’s seat of a wrongful death lawsuit in which he is not a wrongful death beneficiary and has no standing,” Lott claims in the court filings, calling it a “reprehensible attempt to take money out of the minor children’s pockets.”

In addition to asking to be named as the rightful plaintiff in the lawsuit, Cox and Lott ask Judge Lee Howard, who is overseeing the case, to fine Dismukes or Harris.

“This court should exercise its considerable discretion and impose sanctions” for attorney’s fees and other costs, the motion argues.

The motions don’t say how Cox’s other legal troubles might play into the case. Cox faces an Aug. 21 trial in Lowndes County Circuit Court on four burglary charges stemming from his arrest there in 2017. And he has been implicated in break in in Calhoun County that occurred about the same time as the fire.

He’s on the August Circuit Court docket in Calhoun County as well.