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.