Tailgate death to prompt second civil suit

After Brendan Ross ’13 made his first court appearance Monday on criminal charges stemming from a fatal U-Haul crash at last November’s Harvard-Yale tailgate, an attorney for the mother of the deceased victim confirmed Thursday that his client would file a civil suit against Ross.

Ross was arraigned in New Haven Superior Court around noon Monday on misdemeanor charges of negligent homicide with a motor vehicle and reckless driving. At the court hearing, Ross’s New Haven-based attorney William Dow ’63 requested a one-month discovery period to review the state’s evidence, and the case was continued until June 12. Dow told the News that Ross will plead not guilty to the criminal charges against him, labeling the state’s case as “mistaken.”

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.

On the morning of Nov. 19, a 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.

In addition to the criminal charges launched against Ross on Friday, he faces at least two civil suits. Last month, Short filed a civil suit against Ross and the U-Haul company of Connecticut for at least $15,000, claiming that she had sustained several “severe, painful and obvious injuries” from the crash. And Ralph Sbrogna, a Worcester, Mass.-based personal injury lawyer who represents Barry’s mother, Paula St. Pierre, told the News Thursday that St. Pierre would be filing a civil suit against Ross.

Sbrogna said he and his client will likely wait until the criminal case against Ross is resolved before filing their civil suit, so that they can access the state’s evidence regarding the incident. The nature of their suit will be determined their review of all evidence available after the criminal proceedings against Ross end, Sbrogna said.

Ross “applied no brakes [on the U-Haul] as he traveled through the crowd,” according to an arrest warrant application prepared by the New Haven Police Department. The warrant application concluded that Ross “failed to maintain control of his vehicle, and, instead, accelerated into a crowd of people.”

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.

A day after the crash, Dow attributed it to an “apparent vehicle malfunction.” But an NHPD mechanic “found no issues with the gas pedal, cable or throttle body” and said the U-Haul’s brake system was in “good working order.”

After the NHPD completed its forensics investigation last month, it forwarded the results to the state’s attorney’s office, which filed criminal charges against Ross “weeks ago,” NHPD spokesman David Hartman said. As part of a deal reached between Dow and the state’s attorney’s office, Ross turned himself in for arrest at NHPD headquarters Friday evening after he completed his Yale final exams.

“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 arraignment Monday, Dow said he had only recently received information from the state about its case, and 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.

Michael Dearington, the state’s attorney for Connecticut’s New Haven district, declined to comment on the state’s case.

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

Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said Saturday that the University would not comment on the ongoing legal proceedings against Ross.

The University tightened its tailgate rules 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.

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