Court weighs ap­peal in UD stu­dent’s al­co­hol-re­lated death


Delaware’s Supreme Court has been asked to de­cide whether a judge erred in rul­ing that a Univer­sity of Delaware soror­ity was not re­spon­si­ble for the death of a stu­dent who was hit by a car after get­ting drunk.

A three-judge panel heard ar­gu­ments Nov. 28 in an ap­peal filed by the par­ents of Ethan Con­nolly, of Med­way, Mass. Con­nolly was hit by a car in 2013 while cross­ing a dark street after an off-cam­pus soror­ity party. The 19-year-old sopho­more was se­verely drunk at the time.

Con­nolly’s par­ents sued the univer­sity, the soror­ity, a caterer, and a la­bor union that owns the fa­cil­ity where the party was held.

Su­pe­rior Court Judge Fer­ris Whar­ton ruled ear­lier this year that none of the de­fen­dants were li­able, and that Con­nolly was re­spon­si­ble for his own death.

“The sad and in­escapable truth is that Ethan, and only Ethan, was re­spon­si­ble for his own death,” Whar­ton wrote.

Con­nolly, a 19-year-old sopho­more from Mas­sachusetts, died Oct. 18, 2013, after at­tend­ing a “crush party” hosted by Al­pha Ep­silon Phi at the Ex­ec­u­tive Ban­quet and Con­fer­ence Cen­ter near Glas­gow.

Ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments, Con­nolly and his date “pregamed” by drink­ing tequila and beer and then boarded a soror­ity-spon­sored bus to the ban­quet cen­ter.

It’s un­clear how much al­co­hol Con­nolly drank while at the party and how he ob­tained it. Plumbers and Pip­efit­ters Lo­cal No. 74, which runs the venue, claimed in court doc­u­ments that it only served al­co­hol to stu­dents who were 21 or older, while Con­nolly’s fam­ily al­leged en­force­ment was lax.

For un­known rea­sons, Con­nolly and two other stu­dents left the party and walked the short dis­tance out to Route 896, where they at­tempted to cross the high­way around 12:30 a.m. En­ter­ing the road 90 feet from a sig­naled pedes­trian cross­ing, they were struck by a pickup truck. Con­nolly died at the scene, while an­other stu­dent suf­fered non-life-threat­en­ing in­juries.

Con­nolly had a blood al­co­hol con­tent of 0.23 and tested pos­i­tive for mar­i­juana.

In their law­suit, Con­nolly’s par­ents al­leged that UD, Al­pha Ep­silon Phi, Lo­cal 74 and Capo­zolli Cater­ing breached their duty to pre­vent Con­nolly from drink­ing and failed to en­sure he re­turned from the event safety.

Whar­ton, how­ever, dis­missed those claims, grant­ing the de­fen­dants re­quest for sum­mary judg­ment – mean­ing he ruled in the de­fen­dants’ fa­vor with­out a trial.

“It is beyond dis­pute that the rea­son Ethan stepped in front of the pick-up truck that killed him was his own gross im­pair­ment,” Whar­ton wrote. “He was re­spon­si­ble for ‘pre-gam­ing’ with beer and tequila be­fore the crush event…. He was re­spon­si­ble for leav­ing the Ban­quet Cen­ter be­fore the party ended. He was re­spon­si­ble for fore­go­ing the safety of trans­porta­tion back to cam­pus.”

Ne­wark Post re­porter Josh Shan­non con­trib­uted to this ar­ti­cle.


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