UPDATED: Ross ’13 arraigned in tailgate case

Brendan Ross ’13 made his initial court appearance Monday on criminal charges stemming from a fatal U-Haul crash at last November’s Harvard-Yale tailgate.

Ross was arraigned in New Haven Superior Court around noon Monday on misdemeanor charges of negligent homicide with a motor vehicle and reckless driving. Ross was accompanied by his mother and his New Haven-based attorney William Dow ’63. Dow requested a one-month discovery period to review the state’s case, and Ross’s next court appearance is set for June 12. In a Sunday interview with the News, Dow said Ross will plead not guilty to the charges against him.

Under state law, the misdemeanor charge of negligent homicide with a motor vehicle carries a maximum penalty of a $2,500 fine and six months imprisonment.

Ross turned himself in for arrest at New Haven Police Department headquarters Friday evening after he completed his Yale final exams. His arrest came less than a month after the NHPD completed its forensics investigation into the crash and forwarded the investigation’s results to the state’s attorney’s office. NHPD spokesman David Hartman said the state’s attorney’s office submitted a request for Ross’s arrest warrant “weeks ago” and it was signed by a New Haven judge on May 1.

Last week, Dow contacted the state’s attorney’s office and agreed that Ross would turn himself in as part of the warrant after he completed his last final at Yale. Reached by phone Sunday afternoon, Dow described the incident as a “tragedy.”

“Brendan Ross is an exceptional student and member of the Yale and New Haven community and it is unfortunate that he finds himself in the situation he does,” Dow said.

After Ross’s court appearance Monday, Dow said he had received information from the state about its case and evidence only recently, adding that he would have experts examine the state’s materials over the coming month. In the meantime, Ross will return home to O’Fallon, Mo., for the summer, Dow said.

“We believe the state is mistaken in its case,” Dow said.

The NHPD forwarded the results of its investigation to the state’s attorney’s office in mid-April for review. Michael Dearington, the state’s attorney for Connecticut’s New Haven district, said Monday that the results would likely not be made public during the court case, though they have been provided to Dow. Dearington declined to comment on other aspects of the state’s case.

Ross was arrested more than five months after the crash, which occurred the morning of Nov. 19. The U-Haul driven by Ross accelerated and swerved into the Yale Bowl’s D-Lot, killing 30-year-old Nancy Barry of Salem, Mass., and injuring Sarah Short SOM ’13 and Harvard employee Elizabeth Dernbach.

Although Ross passed a field sobriety test on the scene, he was taken to NHPD headquarters on Union Avenue for questioning. Immediately following the incident, the NHPD launched a forensics investigation, which concluded in early April.

The day after the incident, Dow attributed the crash to a “vehicle malfunction.” Connecticut U-Haul executive Pete Sciortino disputed that claim in a statement to the News, saying it had no factual basis.

In a Saturday interview with the News, Paula St. Pierre, Barry’s mother, deferred comment on the case to Ralph Sbrogna, her Worcester, Mass.-based attorney.

“It just brings everything back and it’s too painful to think about,” she said. “I’m just trying to move on, one day at a time.”

Sbrogna did not return requests for comment over the weekend.

Last month, before the crash investigation was finalized, Short filed a civil suit against Ross and the U-Haul company of Connecticut, claiming that she had sustained several “severe painful and obvious injuries” from the crash. She sued for at least $15,000 — the minimum amount necessary to file a case before the court.

Short’s complaint accuses Ross and U-Haul of negligence, spelling out five potential causes of the crash. Those causes include the excessive speed of Ross’s driving, the fact that he never honked his horn and the working condition of the U-Haul, a reason Michael Stratton, Short’s lawyer, said was included because Dow said in the November the accident occurred due to an “apparent vehicle malfunction.”

In addition, Stratton said Short’s civil case might expand to include a suit against Yale for the configuration of the Yale Bowl lots, which allow trucks to drive into pedestrian areas.

Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said Saturday that the University had no comment on the ongoing legal proceedings against Ross.

Following the incident, the University tightened its tailgate regulations in January, banning kegs and “box trucks” from tailgates, establishing a vehicle-free tailgating zone and requiring all attendees to leave the student tailgating area by kickoff.

Comments

  • Quals

    Yale should be sued because they didn’t make everyone at the tailgate wear helmets.

  • observer

    If Yale had adopted the Harvard tailgate rules last year instead of this year, the accident would never have happened.

    • InterestedInBiology

      Harvard’s tailgate is terrible. Things would be safer if we didn’t have a tailgate altogether, but it would also suck.

      • ernie

        Are you saying a fun tailgate is impossible without UHauls? Seems a stretch.

  • Quals

    Things would be safest if we all locked ourselves in a closet. I’m typing from a laptop in one right now.

  • ms2676

    It is a tragedy for all involved.

    It was bad enough that Mr. Ross was slapped with a civil suit, and now the criminal charges do not make it any better.

    • idiot_savant

      It was bad enough that his actions led to the death of a young woman who is survived by her husband, her siblings, and her parents. Call me crazy, but they receive my most immediate sympathy.

      We have a legal system in place that will eventually determine, for better or worse, whether this was an unavoidable tragedy or the result of criminal negligence. Whatever happens, the small fine and (highly unlikely) short jail time Mr. Ross might face pales in comparison to the life lost.

      • observer

        What’s still out there, however, is civil liability for the death of the woman who was killed. That probably won’t be filed until after disposition of the criminal case, The damages sought in the civil case will be substantial.

        • idiot_savant

          I’m OK with that. Funerals cost a lot of money. Her husband has lost part of his financial support. In a middle-class family, everybody counts on everybody else to keep each other afloat when times are tough–especially as children have to care more and more for their parents as they reach the end of their lives. Civil damages are sought with all that in mind. It’s not about filling the hole in one’s heart with money, it’s about making sure that you don’t have to deal with financial hardship on top of grief.

  • The Anti-Yale

    It is unseemly to make light of the suffering of others.

    PK