NEW HAVEN, Conn. — The estate of a Salem woman struck and killed by a rental truck in a tailgating area at a Yale-Harvard football game filed a lawsuit Friday against the driver, U-Haul company, Yale University, the city of New Haven and others.
The estate of Nancy Barry of Salem alleged in the New Haven Superior Court lawsuit that negligence on the part of the defendants contributed to Barry’s 2011 death.
Police say Ross was driving a rental truck carrying beer kegs through a popular tailgating area before the game when witnesses saw the vehicle turn a corner and speed up, striking Barry and two other women.
The driver, Brendan Ross, pleaded guilty to traveling too fast and unsafe starting. He received a special form of probation in February that will leave him with no criminal record.
Paul Edwards, attorney for Barry’s estate, said that while the city failed to ensure pedestrian safety, Yale allowed student organizations to rent large trucks for tailgating parties.
“I expect that even Yale will agree that it was foolish to permit and encourage the use of these U-Haul trucks for student tailgating parties,” Edwards said in a statement.
He also named as a defendant Ross’ fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon, which he said rented the truck.
“Requiring Brendan Ross to try to maneuver this large truck through what was sure to be tight spaces in streets and chaotic parking lots overflowing with pedestrians, party-goers and other traffic simply was asking for trouble,” Edwards said.
Messages left with Ross’ attorney, William Dow III, were not immediately returned.
Dow has described Ross as “an outstanding young man who was involved in a tragic accident.” Dow said of his client in February, “He will emerge from this without a criminal record, but the memory of that tragedy remains. Brendan and his family have extended their condolences to Ms. Barry’s family when the accident occurred. Ms. Barry remains in their prayers.”
The fraternity declined to comment. The city said the claims against it should be dismissed, and Yale denied responsibility for the accident.
“The tragic vehicular accident that took the life of Nancy Barry saddened the Yale community, and we feel the deepest sympathy for her family and loved ones who suffered such a terrible loss,” Yale said in a statement. “We do not believe, however, that Yale or those working on behalf of the University were a cause of the accident.”
Yale tightened its tailgating rules since the accident. It now bans kegs at university athletic events and other functions. Also, oversized vehicles, such as box trucks and large commercial vehicles, are barred from university lots at athletic events unless they are driven by a preapproved authorized vendor.
Police said Ross passed a field sobriety test after the collision and he was cooperative in the investigation.
Prosecutor David Strollo said in court in February that Ross was driving a rented U-Haul and when he reached a parking lot, pedestrian traffic was blocking the way.
Ross revved the engine in an effort to get the pedestrians to move, but the car took off, Strollo said. Ross said he hit the brake but it was the gas pedal, Strollo said.
“Oh my God, what did I do? It was an accident,” Ross said, according to the prosecutor.
Strollo also said an expert found no defects with the vehicle that contributed to the accident and a defense expert came to the same conclusion.
Stuart Shoen, executive vice president for U-Haul International, noted that experts with the company, Ross’ defense and New Haven police agreed the truck had no mechanical flaws.
The lawsuit also names Contemporary Services Corp., a security and management company, as a defendant. Edwards said the company’s staff was late and the company set up an identification checkpoint too close to passing vehicles.
A message left with a company official was not immediately returned.