Lawyer: Crescent not responsible for crash that killed Winthrop professor, daughter, Clover teen

dperlmutt@charlotteobserver.comMay 3, 2013 

— The lawyer for Crescent Resources told Superior Court Judge Bob Ervin on Friday that his client shouldn’t be held responsible for the 2009 crash that killed three people at a busy intersection on N.C. 49 in front of one of its developments.

“Crescent Resources wasn’t driving the vehicle” that was racing another car at high speeds on April 4, 2009, lawyer Greg York said.

His client, York continued, had nothing to do “with the actions” of Tyler Stasko, the driver of the speeding car that rammed into a Mercedes as it tried to turn left onto N.C. 49 from the Riverpointe community.

“We were not engaged in a speed competition,” York said.

Winthrop University English professor Cindy Furr and her 2-year-old daughter, McAllister, were killed. Hunter Holt, a 13-year-old from Clover and a passenger in Stasko’s Mitsubishi Eclipse, died the next day.

Furr’s husband, Steve Price, and Hunter’s parents, Dan and Lisa Holt, are suing Crescent, accusing the development company of negligence for not installing traffic signals at the intersection that it had widened into multiple lanes for its Palisades community. City and state transportation officials had asked Crescent several times to fund the light.

In their lawsuit, Price and the Holts say a signal would have made a difference. They are asking for $5 million for the estates of each of the three victims.

After their lawyers called their last witnesses Friday, York made a motion to dismiss the claims against Crescent and laid out his case.

He told the judge that no evidence was provided that a stoplight would have prevented the accident.

No skid marks

Stasko, 23, was driving Hunter Holt home from Carowinds that evening when he got into a race on N.C. 49 with Carlene Atkinson, 47. Both are now serving prison terms.

York said there was no proof that Stasko would have stopped for a light at the crash site. There were no skid marks, and no evidence that he tried to brake, he said.

By the time Stasko would have seen Furr’s car, he was 648 feet away. York said Stasko’s car hit Furr’s Mercedes at about 86 mph, and the plaintiffs had provided no evidence on whether Stasko had time to avoid the collision – signal or no signal.

He also contended that as Furr pulled onto N.C. 49 – and saw Stasko’s car approaching – she should have stopped at her development’s stop sign. The two racing cars had the right of way, York contended.

But Charlotte lawyer Fred DeVore, representing Price, and Charlotte lawyer Amanda Mingo, representing the Holts, said that Stasko told investigators that he’d stopped at every light along the way after leaving Carowinds.

For years, homeowners in the area have pleaded for a traffic signal at the intersection, saying a building boom and the increased traffic that it brought warranted one. Residents at Riverpointe, across N.C. 49 from The Palisades, said turning left out of the development was difficult and dangerous.

Crescent was awarded a conditional zoning to build The Palisades in 2006 that included installing a traffic signal at the N.C. 49 intersection when there was enough traffic to make one necessary. Car counts, York said, never reached that point.

York said the city and state provided no studies that one was necessary.

After hearing the arguments, Judge Ervin dismissed only gross negligence claims, meaning Crescent didn’t “willfully and wantonly” avoid installing a traffic light where the crash took place.

He ordered York to call his witnesses.

Traffic engineer Randy Goddard was hired by Crescent in 1999 to do a traffic analysis for The Palisades development during the company’s rezoning effort. Goddard testified that by 2004 very little construction had taken place and the traffic volume at that time didn’t warrant a signal at N.C. 49.

Yet DeVore argued that by 2008, Crescent had widened the intersection with left-hand turn lanes from The Palisades, which by state law would have required a signal.

“Nowhere in the state are there dual left-hand turn lanes that don’t have a signal,” DeVore told Goddard and Walter Fields, a planner hired by Crescent to oversee design of The Palisades master plan.

Both agreed.

Fields, however, said by 2008 construction was “far behind and the traffic count was not significantly different. There are things that are trigger points for a signal and none had been met.”

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