Some settlements reached in fatal wrong-way crash

Opening statements are tentatively scheduled to begin Tuesday in Hartford Superior Court in the wrongful death lawsuit brought against the owners and backers of a Mohegan Sun nightclub by the family of Connecticut College student killed in a wrong-way crash on Interstate 395.

Four other parties that were involved in the case, including three other Connecticut College students and a van driver, have settled with the insurance company for the owners of the Ultra 88 nightclub within the past week.

Elizabeth Durante, a 20-year-old premedical student from West Islip, N.Y., was killed March 9 when the northbound van in which she and seven other students were passengers collided head-on with a car going the wrong way near exit 79A of I-395.

The driver of the car, Daniel Musser, had been drinking at the Ultra 88 nightclub inside the casino and had a blood alcohol level of .13, according to police. He is serving a 75-month prison sentence for second-degree manslaughter and is expected to testify at the trial.

Durante's parents are suing Plan B, the Lyons Group LLC and Patrick Lyons claiming reckless negligence. Students Charles Gartman, Jessica Gordon and Laura Whitelaw had sued for negligence along with van driver Faheem Muhammad.

Settlement talks continued while jury selection was under way, and all but Durante's parents have reached confidential settlements.

"All I can tell you is the claims have been resolved to the mutual satisfaction of the concerned parties," said attorney Bruce D. Jacobs of New Haven, who represented Gartman. His client, who was sitting in the second row of seats, suffered a broken jaw, lost several teeth, and tore a ligament in the knee that will require surgery, Jacobs said. The knee injury affects Gartman, who was an accomplished tap dancer, Jacobs said. Gartman went on to graduate following the accident and is applying to medical schools, Jacobs said.

"The first year after this was very rough," Jacobs said.

Attorneys for the other plaintiffs could not be reached for comment.

The students, who were on spring break, were en route to Logan International Airport in Boston to catch a flight to Uganda for a humanitarian mission. Durante was thrown from the van and pinned underneath. She died at the scene.

Musser, a former altar boy who had considered becoming a priest before joining the Navy, had slept in his van before driving the wrong way out of a parking garage and entering the highway in the wrong direction.

Durante's parents, Keith and Kathleen Durante, are represented by Robert Reardon and Kelly Reardon of the Reardon Law Firm of New London. After opening statements, they are expected to call nightclub owner and permittee Patrick Lyons to testify and Ultra 88 employees as their first witnesses.

The crash victims had initially named the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority as defendants in the lawsuit, but the presiding judge, William H. Bright Jr., dismissed them from the case because they are protected by tribal sovereignty.

k.florin@theday.com

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