Pastor accused of injuring, causing man's death

A trial date of April 16 has been set in the civil suit against a former Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) pastor accused of injuring a 71-year-old man and causing his eventual death, according to court documents.

Documents filed by an attorney for David Rhodes claim that Stephen Eugene Galiher in April 2009 was drinking with TBN's president and founder at the Island Hotel in Newport Beach, where Galiher was doing work for the Costa Mesa-based network. TBN's president allegedly watched an intoxicated Galiher drive away to a church-owned home.

As Galiher drove in a network-owned BMW on the Costa Mesa (55) Freeway, he struck the vehicle carrying Rhodes and his wife. The impact caused their vehicle to roll over, according to court documents.

Rhodes died Nov. 3, 2009, of pneumonia as a result of the injuries he suffered in the crash, according to the family's complaint against Galiher.

Galiher pleaded guilty to felony charges of driving under the influence and causing injury. He was sentenced in April 2010 to five years probation, 120 days jail time, fines and restitution.

The family alleges that TBN and its center "turned a blind eye" to Galiher's drinking problem, and continued to employ him and provide him with a car.

In a motion filed Dec. 22 with the court, attorneys for TBN state that there is no evidence to prove that Galiher was acting as a station employee at the time of the crash, and stated that the organization has a zero-tolerance policy toward driving under the influence.

Rhodes' family is seeking an unlimited amount in the suit that include funeral, burial and medical expenses, along with punitive and general damages and loss of earnings.

The trial is currently scheduled to be at the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana.

Attempts to reach Galiher for comment were unsuccessful.

TBN, a Christian television station that is broadcast across the country, also owns the Holy Land Experience, a "living, biblical museum" in Orlando, Fla.

The 38-year-old network, whose headquarters are on Bear Street, has been in the news in recent years for incidents including a settlement with a former employee, Brian Dugger, who said he was harassed for being gay. Dugger said he was told to dress less "gay" and act "straight."

In 2004, the Los Angeles Times reported that the church's founder, Paul Crouch, paid a former employee $425,000 not to reveal a sexual encounter with a male employee.

The church was also in a decade-old battle with Costa Mesa neighbor Stacy Schofro, who said activities at the center were noisy and at odd hours.

John Casoria, an attorney for the network, said TBN doesn't comment on pending litigation.

Twitter: @lawilliams30

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