Nearly two months after the fatal Nov. 19 U-Haul incident at the Harvard-Yale tailgate outside the Yale Bowl, police have yet to complete their forensics investigation.
It is not usual for crash investigations to take months to complete, said three personal injury lawyers who handle cases involving truck accidents, and in cases like this one — in which a U-Haul driven by Brendan Ross ’13 ran over three people, killing 30-year old Nancy Barry of Salem, Mass. — media scrutiny encourages police investigators to be more cautious than usual. New Haven Police Department spokesman David Hartman added that the department’s forensics unit had begun several other concurrent investigations into separate incidents in December, slowing existing investigations.
“It is not at all uncommon for the investigation to be going on two months after an accident,” said Eric Hageman, a Minneapolis-based personal injury lawyer who has represented clients involved in truck accidents. “Media scrutiny can certainly play a role in the police wanting to make sure they ‘get it right.’”
Hartman said Thursday that it will be “quite some time” before the forensics investigation is concluded. The investigation seeks to determine the exact details of what transpired on the morning of Nov. 19, when a U-Haul rented by members of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity swerved and accelerated in the Yale Bowl’s D-Lot at around 9:39 a.m., killing Barry and injuring 30-year-old Sarah Short SOM ’13 and Harvard employee Elizabeth Dernbach before crashing into another, smaller U-Haul. After the accident, the NHPD immediately cordoned off the site, impounded the U-Haul and launched its forensics investigation.
Hartman explained that this particular accident is not the only one the NHPD’s forensics team has been working on, as several other crashes occurred in the Elm City in December. Because of the nature of crash investigations — which require forensics teams to immediately begin work at the scene before evidence deteriorates — the NHPD’s forensics unit has had to divide manpower to cover each investigation.
Michael Dearington, Connecticut state’s attorney for the New Haven district, said Thursday he had still “heard nothing” about the NHPD’s investigation. He added that, as far as he knew, the NHPD was working on several cases and would not submit any results to his office until they were confident that the reports were comprehensive, given the sensitive nature of the tailgate incident.
“Because this is a high-profile case, I suspect that the police department is being overly cautious to make sure all evidence is properly examined and preserved,” said Lawrence Buckfire, a Southfield, Mich.-based personal injury lawyer who also handles cases involving vehicle accidents.
If criminal charges are brought for any reason, all evidence must be preserved for use by defense teams as well, he explained, so forensics teams must work diligently and carefully.
Neither Buckfire nor the two other attorneys interviewed said they could predict how long the investigation will take.
Once Dearington’s office receives the results of the forensics investigation, it will review the evidence and determine whether to press charges. While this review typically does not take as long as the initial investigation, said Hageman, it may take more than a month.
Ross could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The University is currently conducting a review of tailgating policies in the wake of the Nov. 19 accident.