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AMHERST RELEASED FROM CIVIL SUIT IN TRAFFIC DEATHS OF 3 TEENS

A State Supreme Court justice has dismissed civil charges against the Town of Amherst, ruling there is no proof the town caused the "dangerous condition" on Niagara Falls Boulevard that led to the deaths of three teenagers in a 2001 auto accident.

Overturning an earlier ruling he made in the case, Justice Frank A. Sedita Jr. released the town from all liability in the deaths of Christopher Rogalski, Charlene Sewar and Amy DiNatale, all 16-year-old friends from Sweet Home High School. A fourth companion, James McCabe, 17, was severely injured.

Amherst Town Attorney E. Thomas Jones announced the decision Monday during a meeting with Town Board members.

"It was a tragic and unfortunate accident, but the ruling is a solid legal opinion," Jones said following the meeting. Barring an unexpected reversal of the ruling by a higher court, the town will no longer be a party in the case, Jones said.

Asked about the ruling, attorney Joel B. Schechter, who represents the McCabe family, said, "It's disappointing but the law has some very strict requirements when it comes to suing towns."

Jones had repeatedly argued that the town was not liable for the accident because it never received notice that sidewalks in the area of the accident were covered with mounds of snow and ice.

The four teens were struck about 9:20 p.m. by a vehicle driven by Jeffrey W. Kramer, of Cheektowaga, as they walked south along the northbound lanes of the boulevard near Hennepin Road. According to police, the youths were walking in the roadway because of a heavy buildup of snow on sidewalks in the area.

A Town of Amherst judge convicted Kramer in 2002 of a single noncriminal traffic charge of failing to exercise due care.

Sedita's ruling reduces the number of defendants in the case to six, including Kramer. Other defendants are: Carstar Collision of Amherst, 2753 Niagara Falls Blvd.; and the owners of the property, Michael F. and Jean L. Graziadei; and the owners of the property at 2733 Niagara Falls Blvd., Monica Frankish and Wei Tsu Wang.

The original suit charged 10 Niagara Falls Boulevard property owners and businesses with failing to maintain sidewalks. Amherst was charged with failing to enforce town laws calling for walks to be free of ice and snow.

Following a 2002 court hearing, Sedita ruled that the town would not be dismissed from the case and must answer plaintiffs' claims that it was negligent in failing to enforce its ordinances.

According to Sedita, a "zone of danger" was created when property owners failed to clear ice and snow from sidewalks, forcing the four teens to make their way in the street.

However, last week, Sedita reversed his earlier decision, ruling that there was no proof the plaintiffs had complied with the town's requirement calling for prior written notice that sidewalks were dangerous or defective.

In addition, Sedita said, there was an "absence of proof that the town caused or created the dangerous condition" leading to the accident.

e-mail: tdolan@buffnews.com

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