August 21, 2000

Family of Michelle Evans Seeks $4 Million from Cornell, Others

Print More

The family of Michelle Evans, a Cornell University junior struck and killed by a Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit Bus in March, is demanding two payments totaling $4 million in a wrongful death lawsuit.

The family’s attorney, Robert E. Lahm, filed a Summons and Complaint Aug. 10 in the state Supreme Court in Tompkins County. The document names TCAT bus driver Timothy T. Stranger, the bus service itself and its three partners — Tompkins County, the City of Ithaca and Cornell University — as those responsible for Evans’ death.

As the TCAT bus rounded the curb on the rainy afternoon of March 16, turning right from Thurston Avenue to Wait Avenue, it struck Evans, knocking her to the pavement and running her over.

Witnesses said that the bus was overcrowded at the time of the accident. The 37-seat bus carried 60 passengers, many of them standing in front of the yellow line, blocking the driver’s vision through side windows, the door and the right windshield.

Blood and breath tests following the accident revealed that Stranger may have been operating the bus while under the influence of alcohol and marijuana.

Stranger was indicted May 23 on criminal charges, on 12 counts relating to the accident, including second-degree vehicular manslaughter and operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and controlled substances.

In the Summons and Complaint, Evans’ family alleges it suffered $2 million in damages, which include the injuries the daughter sustained “all leading to her wrongful death and conscious pain and suffering.”

The damage claims include medical and funeral expenses, and the “conscious pain and suffering and fear of impending death” Evans suffered. The claim is brought against Stranger, TCAT and Cornell University.

“We believe there is a relationship between the municipalities and TCAT, that they are vicariously responsible for the accident,” Lahm explained.

The second $2 million is related to claims that the University and the City of Ithaca allowed dangerous traffic conditions to persist at the intersections of Thurston and Wait Avenues.

The first claim holds Stranger liable for violating laws prohibiting the “bus driver’s use of drugs, controlled substances and intoxicating liquor,” and other statutes of the Vehicle and Traffic Law of the State of New York and regulations of the Department of Transportation. They include failing to exercise due care, failing to yield right of way to a pedestrian, performing an unsafe, improper right turn and driving at an unsafe speed under the circumstances.

The Evans family charges that TCAT selected an unsafe bus route, “considering the narrow width of Wait Avenue, the length, size and turning radius of the bus and the number of pedestrians present on the campus.”

They also hold TCAT accountable for irresponsible hiring and supervision practices. Stranger was convicted for Driving While Intoxicated in 1991.

For the second claim, the document states that “the intersection of Wait Avenue and Thurston Avenue had existed in a dangerous condition for many years and was therefore defective.”

Among the negligent practices the Evans’ list are “failing to keep and maintain clearly delineated crosswalks to enable pedestrians to safely cross … failing to erect pedestrian crossing signals, failing to widen Wait Avenue … failing to erect and maintain appropriate signage warning both pedestrians and motorists of the dangers existing.”

The lawsuit came as no surprise, said City of Ithaca Attorney Norma Schwab. A notice of claim had been filed on May 17, preserving the Evans’ right to sue.

Though a settlement may be reached, Lahm expects the case to go to court. “The case will probably take one-and-a-half to two years,” Lahm said.

Archived article by Yoni Levine