October 11, 2000

Lawsuits Relating to Bus Tragedy Moves Forward

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As civil and criminal lawsuits remain under legal investigation, Cornell University and the City of Ithaca continue to work on campus and transit safety nearly six months after the death of Cornell student Michelle Evans.

The 21-year-old junior was struck and killed while crossing the street at the intersection of Thurston and Wait avenues on March 16.

In a wrongful death lawsuit, the family of Michelle Evans named TCAT bus driver Timothy T. Stranger, TCAT and TCAT’s three business partners, Tompkins County, the City of Ithaca and Cornell University as parties responsible for Evans’ death.

Neither Evans’ lawyer Judy Wright, nor Ithaca City attorney Norma Schwab could comment on the details of the case, which is currently under court litigation.

Wright did mention that “at this point in time, it is difficult to predict whether the case will go to trial.”

The court date for the criminal lawsuit is set for early December. The most serious charges brought against Stranger are second-degree manslaughter, second-degree vehicular manslaughter and second-degree assault.

In late August, Stranger’s attorney, Richard Wallace, filed a motion to dismiss the entire 12-count indictment, claiming the evidence presented to the grand jury was not sufficient for the charges.

The dismissal cited Patrolman Derek Barr’s inability to produce the his personal notes taken at the crime scene, leaving “no specific recollection of the precise contents of his notes.”

Stranger, who was fired by TCAT after the accident, has been “sick at heart” and has required “a doctor’s care” to cope with the trauma of the accident, according to Brian Goodell, United Auto Workers local TCAT representative.

As the lawsuits proceed, the University has turned its attention to preventing other tragedies.

“Improving campus safety and student awareness is always an important focus of the University,” said Henrik N. Dullea ’61, vice president for University relations.

The Wait Avenue roadway was widened over the summer, and gravel is gradually being added to smooth out bumps. Louie’s Lunch has moved down the roadway and out of traffic.

In addition, the Student Assembly passed a resolution to add a sidewalk to the nearby Jessup Road.

TCAT officials also distributed strobe lights to new freshmen to improve nighttime visibility.

Despite these improvements, Goodell remains “less than satisfied.” He explained that many complaints filed by TCAT bus drivers concerning faded cross walk lines on the roadway, limited visibility, and narrow roadways have yet to be addressed.

“Bus drivers report pretty much everything they see — these complaints take a while to get noticed.” Goodell said.

“Every single day people dart out in front of buses. It’s a scare,” he added, recalling that yesterday a student darted out in front of his 20-ton bus in nearly the same spot as that in which Evans was hit.

With the not so distant memory of the accident, many students have also voiced concerns about future tragedies.

“Before [Evan’s death], accidents like this had always seemed distant. Now I feel like it’s a very real part of the community,” said Gregory Padowski ’03.

“It was such a tragic accident — and to think that there are so many people and so many cars on campus. If anything good can come of it, hopefully the [TCAT] bus company and students will become more aware,” said Katie Nelson ’03, who this year joined the 302 Wait Ave. Cooperative where Evans lived last year.

“I don’t think that the trauma will ever go away,” said Goodell, who now drives the route that Stranger used to drive. “Every time you turn up the curve on Wait Ave., you feel it.”

Archived article by Jennifer Roberts