An Alexandria woman, apparently distraught over losing a lawsuit filed on behalf of her crippled son, fatally shot him and herself yesterday two hours after learning her family had lost the $10 million suit, police said.
Cordelia Watts, 52, of 2617 Stevens St. sent her husband Roy to buy Chinese food for dinner about 5:30 p.m. and then, while sitting beside a wooden picnic table in the back yard of the Watts' ranch-style home, fired several shots at her son and then turned the gun on herself, according to police spokeswoman Lucy Crockett.
Cory Watts, 22, was pronounced dead at Alexandria Hospital at 6:58 p.m.; his mother had been pronounced dead at their home.
"I was making myself dinner at about 6 and I heard the shots," said Halima Roushanfeker, a neighbor who called police at 6:10 p.m. "I thought it was a toy or something, but then I came out and she was lying on the lawn under the table. And the boy was slumped in his chair. He fell onto the ground when I was out there."
The $10 million damage suit was filed in August 1983 aginst Bell Helmets of Norwalk, Calif., manufacturer of the helmet Cory Watts was wearing on Oct. 11, 1982, when the motorcycle he was riding crashed into a concrete median on Shirley Highway in Arlington.
The family also sued the driver of a car that the court papers claimed swerved into Watts' lane of the highway and caused him to lose control of his motorcycle, but that suit had been dismissed earlier.
The suit against Bell Helmets contended that Watts suffered permanent brain damage in the crash, and that Bell had improperly claimed that the helmet had been approved by an industry safety group.
The helmet, the Bell "Tourstar" model, cracked above the nape of Cory Watts' neck in the accident, the suit alleged.
Yesterday afternoon, after deliberating for about 8 hours, a jury in U.S. District Court in Alexandria found in favor of the helmet company, concluding that suit.
Cordelia Watts, who was accompanied by her two other children during her courtroom appearances, testified at the trial, breaking down at one point, according to Bell's attorney, Fred C. Alexander.
"I think Cory was her life in the last three years since the accident," said Kathy O'Boyle, who grew up with Cory and his older brother and sister.
"We used to visit him in the hospital when he was recovering," she said.
O'Boyle said that Cory Watts spent most of the year after the accident in Georgetown University Hospital, about three months of it in a coma.
He had graduated from Alexandria's T.C. Williams High School and was enrolled as a freshman at Northern Virginia Community College.
Neighbors said that in addition to being brain damaged, Cory Watts could walk only with the aid of a walker.
Alexandria police said that the loss of the suit late yesterday afternoon was the apparent reason for the shootings.
"That boy was just falling apart in every way -- mentally and physically," said a longtime neighbor who asked not to be named. "And it was killing his parents, too. I guess when she lost this suit she just gave up."
Police recovered a handgun at the scene of the shootings and a police spokesman said that "several shots were fired."
Neighbors in the suburban community in Alexandria's West End described the family as withdrawn and polite, saying that after the accident they stopped socializing much.
"I just talked with them both on Sunday," said a neighbor, referring to Cordelia and Cory Watts. "He was a very sweet boy, but after the accident he was never the same. He could talk, but it was just the basics."