The families of two Yale students killed in a 2003 car crash filed suit last week against the state of Connecticut and two construction companies, claiming dangerous highway conditions played a significant role in causing the accident.
Joel Faxon, an attorney representing the family of Nicholas Grass ’05, one of four students killed in the crash, said the state neglected to salt the icy I-95, failed to adequately warn oncoming traffic away from the site of an earlier accident on the highway, and departed from standard practice in deploying only 25 percent of its allotted maintenance and repair resources on the night of the accident.
“Our belief is that if the road had not been in such bad condition, the tragedy would not have happened,” Faxon said. “The state claims it was a budget issue. We claim it was a safety issue.”
The complaint also charges the M. DeMatteo Construction Company and Brunali Construction Company with knocking over a light pole during routine construction, shutting down the highway illumination system and creating difficult driving conditions.
Robert Adelman, an attorney for the family of Sean Fenton ’04, another student killed in the crash, also filed suit against the state and the two construction companies Friday. Adelman declined to comment.
Messages left with representatives of the state and the construction companies were not returned.
A preliminary report issued in November 2003 by the National Transportation Safety Board cited poor visibility and slippery road conditions as possible causes of the accident.
Faxon said more suits might be forthcoming from other relatives of students involved in the crash as the statute of limitations for claiming damages from the accident approaches. He said the plaintiffs will generally work together while pursuing individual claims.
Fenton was driving eight other Yale students back to New Haven after attending a Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity event in New York on the morning of Jan. 17, 2003 when his SUV collided with a tractor-trailer on I-95 near Fairfield. Fenton, Grass, Kyle Burnat ’05 and Andrew Dwyer ’05 were killed, while other students sustained serious injuries.
The NTSB report said Armando Salgado, the driver of the tractor-trailer, saw flares from a previous accident ahead of him on the road and panicked. Salgado lost control of his vehicle on the icy highway and veered into the lanes at the side of the road.
Three vehicles, including Fenton’s Chevrolet Tahoe, hit the jack-knifed trailer.
Faxon filed a wrongful death suit against Salgado in November. All the lawsuits seek unspecified damages.
Regardless of the outcome of the suit, DKE president Richard Shanor ’05 said the students’ absence will still be felt at the fraternity.
“We all still miss those four very dearly and have mourning every year,” Shanor said. “They will never be forgotten.”
Faxon said the suits could take two to three years to process.