Suit blames 1997 death on husband, not air bags Cape May County dropped a murder investigation of Eric V. Thomas. Now his in-laws are suing him in civil court.

Posted: March 26, 2002

The parents of a Cape May County woman who was found dead behind the wheel of her SUV in 1997 filed a civil lawsuit yesterday in U.S. District Court in Camden, accusing the woman's husband, Eric V. Thomas, of strangling her.

"We are engaging in an all-out push to point the finger directly at Mr. Thomas. There's no doubt in our minds that he in fact murdered his wife," said Robert T. Pickett, attorney for Doris and Donald Rose, the parents of Tracy Rose Thomas.

Eric Thomas has denied killing his wife. In a lawsuit against the Ford Motor Co., which he dropped last year, Thomas contended that his wife had been killed by a faulty air bag.

This is disputed in the wrongful-death suit, which seeks punitive damages and was also filed on behalf of Alix Thomas, Tracy and Eric Thomas' 6-year-old daughter.

To win a civil lawsuit, plaintiffs need to show a preponderance of evidence in their favor, rather than a criminal prosecution's stricter standard of having to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Cape May County prosecutor investigated Thomas on murder allegations, but halted the investigation in February after expert reports were inconclusive.

Doris Rose, contacted at her home in Hyannis, Mass., said she did not want to discuss the case.

"It's a hard day," she said.

Carl Poplar, who represented Eric Thomas last year, could not be reached for comment.

Besides requesting damages, Pickett said, the Roses are seeking that Tracy Thomas' half of her estate, which went to Eric Thomas after her death, be passed to Alix.

The Roses have also applied to Surrogate Court in Cape May County, asking that Doris Rose be made the administrator of Tracy Thomas' estate. Eric Thomas is currently the administrator, Pickett said. The matter is scheduled for a hearing April 26, he said.

Tracy Thomas, 36, was found dead in her Ford Explorer on a snowy night in February 1997. Eric Thomas, a Cape May Court House dentist, was unconscious in the passenger seat, and their daughter, then about 18 months old, was found unharmed in the rear seat.

Eric Thomas sued Ford, contending that a faulty air bag had caused his wife's death.

Ford attorneys turned the liability lawsuit into a murder investigation by casting suspicion on Thomas and arguing that his wife had been strangled.

Both sides produced experts to support their version of events.

Eric Thomas dropped his suit in July, saying it was too expensive.

Tracy Thomas' relatives spoke publicly of their suspicion of Eric Thomas, who acknowledged in court documents that he had had an affair while his wife was alive. He has since remarried.

The lawsuit accuses him of "vicious and outrageous savagery . . . especially when a husband kills his wife, as in this matter, for the love and comfort of another woman."

Contact Brendan January

at 856-779-3807 or bjanuary@phillynews.com.

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