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Sandy Hook Families Sue Newtown, Schools, Citing Lax Security

By Dave Altimari, The Hartford Courant (TNS)

At least two families of victims in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting have filed a lawsuit against the town of Newtown and the school board, alleging lax security on the day 20 first-graders and six adults were shot and killed.

The 66-page lawsuit was given to a state marshal on Dec. 14, the last day under state statutes that legal action could be taken against the community, and recently served at the town clerk’s office.

The plaintiffs are the estates of slain students Noah Pozner and Jesse Lewis. The children’s parents, Leonard Pozner, Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, are the administrators. The families are represented by Norwalk attorney Donald Papcsy, a Sandy Hook resident, who could not be reached for comment Monday.

Adam Lanza shot his way into the Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, and opened fire in two classrooms. Lanza entered the school by shooting through the front glass windows and entering near the school offices.

He killed school Principal Dawn Hochsprung and school psychologist Mary Sherlach before entering the classrooms. In one of those classrooms, substitute teacher Lauren Rousseau was unable to lock the door because she did not have a key.

Rousseau was assigned to the class shortly before school was set to open when the regular teacher called in sick. Rousseau tried to hide the students in a small bathroom but Lanza walked into the room and opened fire, killing all but one girl.

The lawsuit alleges that Rousseau “had neither a key to lock the door nor any knowledge of the … safety and security protocols rehearsed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in case an intruder or other dangerous individual gained access to the school.”

The lawsuit also alleges the town was negligent in not having a more secure entrance way to the school because it did not have bulletproof glass on the front windows and for having doors that couldn’t be locked from the inside.

The lawsuit also questions the lack of security in the parking lot area. Lanza parked his car at the curb near the front entrance of the school, less than 100 feet from the entrance.

“We are hopeful that the Town of Newtown’s elected and hired representatives will work with these families, who have already suffered, and continue to suffer, unimaginable loss, to help resolve this matter in the most efficient and constructive way possible,” Papcsy said in a statement. “As residents of the town, we all either have, or are going to have, students in our Sandy Hook schools, and we promote the idea of learning from the past and protecting our children in the future.”

Town Attorney David Grogins acknowledged that the lawsuit has been filed, but declined to comment on it Monday.

The lawsuit names the town, school board and Sandy Hook Principal Kathleen Gombos, who is erroneously referred to as Sandy Gombos. The lawsuit also inaccurately names the school superintendent.

As is standard, the lawsuit seeks more than $15,000 in damages.

The lawsuit is the second one filed since the shooting. The first one against the gun manufacturer, filed at Superior Court in Bridgeport, claims that the Bushmaster AR-15 used by Lanza in the shooting should not be sold to the public because it is a military assault weapon designed for war.

Ten families, including the Pozner and Lewis families, and one of the teachers who was shot and survived are involved in the lawsuit.

That lawsuit will attempt to use what is known as the negligent entrustment exemption. In a negligent entrustment case, a party can be held liable for entrusting a product, in this case the Bushmaster rifle, to another party who then causes harm to a third party.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Sandy Hook Families File Wrongful Death Claim Notices

By Dave Altimari, The Hartford Courant (TNS)

HARTFORD, Conn. — The parents of ten children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School have filed or soon will file notices in probate court that they plan to make wrongful death claims on their children’s behalf.

Filing the forms that open estates in the children’s names, with their parents as the administrators, is a necessary legal step before a lawsuit can be filed.

Eight estates that were opened Monday are in the names of Benjamin Wheeler, Jessica Rekos, Jack Pinto, Grace McDonnell, Charlotte Bacon, Daniel Barden, Ana Marquez-Greene and Arielle Richman, according to probate court records.

Last week, the parents of Dylan Hockley were approved as administrators. The tenth will be the estate of Jesse Lewis, which previously had been filed and closed but is in the process of being reopened, probate officials said.

The probate filings do not automatically mean that all ten families or any of them will go through with legal action. The five-page documents include a box that must be checked if the estate plans to file a wrongful death claim. The filings do not indicate against whom a lawsuit would be filed. The Fairfield County probate judge still must approve the eight filings made Monday.

Sources said several families met over the weekend with lawyers from Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder, a Bridgeport, Conn., law firm, to discuss a potential lawsuit against Bushmaster, the North Carolina-based manufacturer of the Bushmaster AR 15 that Adam Lanza used to kill 20 first-graders and six adults on Dec. 14, 2012.

There have also been discussions with other lawyers about filing a lawsuit against the town over security issues at the school on the day of the massacre or about suing the estate of Nancy Lanza.

The deadline to file civil lawsuits against the town of Newtown or the school board is Sunday, two years after the shooting. There are circumstances where a lawsuit against a private company, such as a gun manufacturer, could be filed within three years but that statute normally deals with product liability cases, which is not an issue here, according to several lawyers not involved with the case.

Sources said that the families also are considering suing the insurance company that holds the insurance policy for Nancy Lanza’s Newtown home. Nancy Lanza’s probate estate is still open but the largest asset — the home where she was killed by her son before he drove to the Sandy Hook school — was turned over to the town. The estate has about $64,000, according to probate filings.

But Nancy Lanza did have homeowners insurance, which could become a target in a lawsuit that argues she was negligent to allow her troubled son access to weapons and ammunition, including the Bushmaster used in the massacre.

Under state law, a lawyer would have to have a lawsuit in the hands of a state marshal by Sunday, not necessarily filed in court. The marshal then has 30 days in which to serve the parties being sued.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Newtown Official: Sandy Hook Shooting Donations Divided Town

By Dave Altimari, The Hartford Courant

HARTFORD, Conn. — The distribution of donations made to Newtown following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was so problematic that it has likely left “a permanent fracture in the community,” First Selectwoman Pat Llodra said Friday.

Llodra and Superintendent Joseph V. Erardi Jr. appeared before the state’s Sandy Hook Advisory Commission to discuss issues in town, more than 18 months after the Dec. 14, 2012, shooting that left 26 dead, including 20 first-graders.

In her statement, Llodra said that recovering from the shooting will be a “decades-long challenge” and that federal officials will be returning to Newtown in October for a meeting on how to coordinate the long-term use of the millions of dollars in grants the government has pledged.

Llodra touched on the difficulties in coordinating all the mental health providers who descended on her community and suggested there is a need for a state agency to oversee such a task. She also told the commission that it should look at the strategy used in Boston following the marathon bombing to create one fund through which donations were collected and distributed.

Llodra said the distribution of funds was “problematic and caused significant conflict that likely has left a permanent fracture in our community.”

Following the shooting donations poured in from all over the world and were initially collected by the United Way of Western Connecticut. More than $12 million was eventually collected but problems erupted when the United Way formed the Newtown-Sandy Hook Community Foundation Inc., a private committee made up of community residents.

The foundation decided to give the 26 families who lost loved ones about $281,000 each. It gave $20,000 to the families of the 12 children who survived Adam Lanza’s shooting barrage in two classrooms and $75,000 each to two teachers who were injured.

The foundation kept more than $4 million in the fund, angering some victims’ families and town officials. It has not distributed the remaining money.

Llodra said there also were problems with all of the smaller groups that started collecting money. Llodra said there “was no organized system in place to document who was collecting money” and what they were doing with it.

Llodra said “there needs to be a clear, transparent, and fair” method of distributing money following a tragedy.

The attorney general’s office eventually developed a questionnaire that it sent to every organization that indicated it was collecting donations.
There were 77 organizations that collected more than $28 million with about $13 million yet to be distributed. A large portion of those funds are earmarked for a memorial still in the planning stages.

Llodra was preceded by acting Superintendent Joseph V. Erardi Jr., who told the commission he met privately in July with staff from the Sandy Hook School Elementary School that was working on the day of the shooting to hear their thoughts and concerns.

Erardi said many school personnel still “struggle when they hear school bells ring.”

Photo: Rob Bixby via Flickr

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Bail Set For Woman Accused Of Making Bomb Threats To Cancel Graduation

By Dave Altimari, The Hartford Courant

MERIDEN, Conn. — Although a prosecutor and her public defender asked that Danielle Shea be released on a promise to appear in court, a judge set bail at $10,000 for the woman accused of phoning in bomb threats in an attempt to cancel graduation at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut.

Judge Philip A. Scarpellino said he was deeply troubled that Shea, 22, twice phone in bomb threats on Sunday.

“Plus, I’m understanding that the whole year was a lie,” Scarpellino said after reviewing the Hamden police report that indicates Shea was not a student at Quinnipiac this spring, but accepted money from her mother to pay for tuition. She remained in custody Monday afternoon. The judge also said he was not confident Shea would show up for future court dates.

She is accused of phone bomb threats to Quinnipiac’s public safety department to cancel graduation so that her family would not discover she was not graduating.

Shea, 22, of Quincy, was arrested while wearing a cap and gown inside the TD Bank Sports Center, where school officials had moved the graduation for students of the College of Arts and Sciences after the initial bomb threats came in. Police were able to trace the two threatening calls to Shea’s cellphone.

Hamden police said the first call in which the female voice said “there is a bomb in the library” was made at 5:45 p.m., or about 15 minutes before graduation ceremonies for the College of Arts and Sciences were scheduled to begin.

While Hamden police and Quinnipiac police were searching the library, a second bomb threat was called in about 17 minutes later. The woman stated: “Several bombs are on campus. You haven’t cleared out graduation. That’s not a good idea.”

Police did not find any bombs in the library or anywhere else on campus.

After the second call, school officials decided to move the graduation to the arena. There were more than 5,000 people in the quad area waiting for the 388 students to get their degrees.

Police traced the calls to Shea’s phone and learned she was a former student at the university. Police did not say how they found her inside the arena. She did not have any weapons or explosives.

Hamden police Capt. Ronald Smith said several of Shea’s relatives, including her mother, were at graduation.

“The mother didn’t see her name on the graduation roster, and she panicked and called in a couple of bomb threats,” Smith said.

In an interview after her arrest, police said Shea told detectives that her mother had paid her thousands of dollars this year, money she thought was for her daughter’s education at Quinnipiac. School records show that Shea was not a student there this year.

Shea, who most recently was living in Hamden, did attend the school in 2012 and is listed as having made the dean’s list for the spring semester. To qualify for the dean’s list at Quinnipiac, a student must earn a grade-point average of at least 3.5 with no grade lower than C.

Photo: NotArt via Flickr