February 20, 2002

Evans' Civil Proceeding To Continue

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Legal proceedings continue nearly two years after a TCAT bus struck and killed Michelle A. Evans ’01 in the summer of 1999, then Cornell University junior.

Her family is demanding two payments totaling to $4 million in a civil lawsuit brought against Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit (TCAT) bus driver Timothy T. Stranger, TCAT itself and its three partners — Tompkins County, the City of Ithaca and Cornell University.

According to the Summons and Complaint, the Evans’ family is entitled to punitive and compensatory damages due to, “gross negligence and reckless disregard for life, health and safety of others.”

The charges include, “failing to keep and maintain clearly delineated crosswalks to enable pedestrians to safely cross … [at] the intersection of Wait Avenue and Thurston Avenue,” where Evans was struck, according to the Summons.

The plaintiffs also contend in the Summons that TCAT, “[failed] to appropriately conduct background checks and license checks of their drivers,” and that it “[loaded and operated] the bus under extremely overcrowded conditions” that blocked the Stranger’s view.

Stranger pleaded guilty in a criminal lawsuit — including criminally negligent homicide, driving while physically impaired by drugs and under the influence of alcohol — in November 2000. In his plea, Stranger admitted to drinking a six-pack of beer and smoking marijuana before beginning his shift.

He was sentenced to one year in jail and has since been released.

The defendants, jointly represented by Kevin Hulslander, will make a motion to dismiss the punitive damage claim as well as the road defect claim for construction and design.

They will not move to dismiss the basic claim of negligence, according to Hulslander.

“Our position is that the [accident] was not caused by the driver of the bus,” Huslander said. “Any negligence on the part of the bus driver did not cause the accident and did not cause Evans’ death.”

The family’s lawyer, Robert E. Lahm, was unavailable for comment.

At the pre-trial scheduled for Feb. 27, both sides’ attorneys and the judge will discuss the case.

It has not yet been determined whether the case will go to trial, Hulslander said.

As a result of the accident, the intersection of Wait Ave. and Thurston Ave. has been widened and the pavement replaced to make driving smoother.

Though the corner is owned by the city, not Cornell, the University has reacted to the civil lawsuit.

“We’ve always felt very strongly about safety [and] we’ve had a lot of interactions with TCAT concerning safety,” said Henrik N. Dullea ’61, vice president for University relations.

Cornell University is the second largest source of revenue for TCAT, behind state aid from New York.

“The [bus driver] violated TCAT’s policies,” Dullea added.

After his release, Stranger began working on his educational degree, according to Brian Goodell, president of United Auto Workers local 2300.

“[Stranger] sounded like he had turned over a new leaf,” Goodell said.

Archived article by Peter Lin