Lawsuit: Mother of child who died in Woodmore bus crash was tricked into legal agreement

Motorists pass a collection of teddy bears, mementos, and balloons placed at the site of a fatal school bus crash on Talley Road on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn. The makeshift memorial to victims of the Monday crash, which killed 6 Woodmore Elementary students and injured dozens more, has grown since the road was reopened Tuesday. (Staff Photo by Dan Henry/The Chattanooga Times Free Press-11/24/16)

A mother whose child died in the Woodmore Elementary School bus crash is suing a Chattanooga funeral home for locking her in the same room as a fake attorney.

LaTesha Jones said she went to Taylor Funeral Home to view her daughter's body after the Nov. 21 crash and wound up signing a legal agreement with a man who lied about being an attorney.

That agreement wasn't an accident, Jones' attorneys wrote in the lawsuit, filed in Hamilton County Circuit Court on Sept. 22. Rather, it was an arranged scheme between the funeral home, its employee Anita Taylor, the Witherspoon Law Group and the "faux-attorney," Alphonso McClendon.

The funeral home and law group did not return requests for comment Thursday. Witherspoon has previously denied any wrongdoing.

Jones visited the funeral home a few days before her daughter's funeral on Nov. 26, the lawsuit says. During a break from the arrangments, Taylor instructed Jones and a handful of relatives to join her in another room. Taylor locked the door behind her and introduced them to McClendon, an attorney who could help them in their time of need, the suit says.

Tennessee law says attorneys are not allowed to approach people about litigation within the first 30 days following an accident. McClendon and his colleagues are currently fighting such allegations in a separate lawsuit the Tennessee State Attorney General's Office filed in April.

After sitting in the room for about 30 minutes, unable to leave, Jones signed a representation agreement with McClendon, the suit says. Afterwards, to ensure Jones she'd made a good decision, Taylor said the funeral home had been doing business with McClendon and his law firm for 10 years, the suit says.

Jones' suit said problems developed quickly: McClendon showed up at her house the next day, saying Durham School Services had already offered $3 million to settle their claim, but he thought he could talk the bus company into $4 million. He also offered to help Jones pay to move to a different home, the suit says.

When she figured out McClendon wasn't an attorney, she linked up with Chattanooga lawyer Jay Clements, who filed the suit. He and Jones are asking for $1 million for infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud.

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.