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The truth about Freddie Gray's 'pre-existing injury from car accident'

Debunking rumors: Freddie Gray settlement connected to lead paint, not car accident or spinal surgery.

Online reports are swirling that Freddie Gray had spinal surgery shortly before he died in police custody, and had collected a payout in a settlement from a car accident. Those reports — which raise questions about the injury that led to his death in April 19 — point to Howard County court records as proof.

But court records examined Wednesday by The Baltimore Sun show the case had nothing to do with a car accident or a spine injury. Instead, they are connected to a lawsuit alleging that Gray and his sister were injured by exposure to lead paint.

Paperwork was filed in December allowing Gray and his sister, Fredericka to each collect an $18,000 payment from Peachtree Settlement Funding, records show. In exchange, Peachtree would have received a $108,439 annuity that was scheduled to be paid in $602 monthly installments between 2024 and 2039.

In her documents, Fredericka Gray checked "other" when asked to describe the type of accident. She also said that the date of the accident was "94/99" and that she was a minor when the case was settled.

In his documents, Freddie Gray checked "work injury, medical malpractice and auto accident" as the type of accident. When asked to explain, he also wrote something that is unreadable. He also wrote something unreadable when asked if he was a minor when the case was settled.

Both cases were filed at the same time by a New Jersey law firm.

A judge dismissed the case on April 2 when neither Gray nor his sister appeared in court, records show.

Gray's death has sparked more than a week of protests in Baltimore including some that turned violent and led to looting.

Baltimore attorney William H. "Billy" Murphy, who represents the Gray family, confirmed that the Howard County case was connected to the lead paint lawsuit.

Jason Downs, an attorney who is with Murphy's firm and represents one of Gray's relatives, said, "We have no information or evidence at this point to indicate that there is a prior pre-existing spinal injury. It's a rumor."

A 2006 injury case listed in online Maryland court records lists Freddie Gray as a plaintiff, but Downs said that case involves his father, who shares the same name.

As children, Gray and his two sisters were found to have damaging lead levels in their blood, which led to educational, behavioral and medical problems, according to a lawsuit they filed in 2008 against the owner of a Sandtown-Winchester home the family rented for four years.

While the property owner countered in the suit that other factors could have contributed to the children's deficits — including poverty and their mother's drug use — the case was settled before going to trial in 2010. The terms of the settlement are not public.

mpuente@baltsun.com

ddonovan@baltsun.com

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