In 2011, Brendon Ross crashed a U-haul truck at a tailgating party before a Harvard-Yale football game when bringing beer kegs to the party; he attempted to rev the engine, but wound up speeding forward, instead. This lead to the death of one woman, named Nancy Barry, as well as the serious injuring of fellow student Sarah Short and Harvard employee Elizabeth Dernbach. He was quickly charged with negligent homicide, reckless endangerment and reckless driving, but he faced no jail time; instead, he was given probation. Now, Barry’s family is taking action against the fraternity that Ross belonged to.
Ross was a member of the Yale chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon. After the incident, the national organization took steps to remove itself from the Yale chapter, effectively distancing itself from the lawsuits being aimed at it. Barry and Short’s families, both, are now suing 86 former and current members of the fraternity chapter.
The local chapter, rather than the national organization, is being charged because the national organization did not sanction the tailgating event, and its insurance company does not take responsibility for non-fraternity events. According to the Barry family attorney, Paul Edwards, the Yale chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon is voluntary and not organized in any legal way, and is thus not insured, either. These facts prompted the grieving families to aim their lawsuits at local members.
On the topic of this move, Edwards said, “It was a move that we were forced to take by the defense and the posturing of the national fraternity’s lawyers.” He continued, saying, “They are effectively cutting off its local chapter and members. I think that defense is bogus. It’s our claim that what happened at Yale two years ago was very clearly, definitively and obviously a Sigma Phi Epsilon-sponsored fraternity event.”
The lawsuits were filed on December 30th of 2013. Court dates have been neither determined or announced as of yet. Yale has tightened its tailgating rules since the event, no longer allowing large trucks or beer kegs on campus or at tailgating parties before games.
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