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    Tuesday, October 04, 2022

    Crash that killed four teens draws a second lawsuit

    Griswold - The parents of a teen driver who died, along with three friends, in a December car crash on Route 201 have filed an intention for legal action against the town.

    John C. Clapper Jr. and Roberta Clapper, co-administrators of the estate of 16-year-old John Clapper III, filed the notice Tuesday in town hall. Police said Clapper was driving the vehicle before it struck two trees.

    Gina Pelletier and Eugene Cornell, parents of Sativa Cornell, another teen killed in the crash, filed a similar suit May 18.

    The car in the accident, a 2007 Nissan Altima, was registered to Pelletier.

    The document claims that "negligence and carelessness" by the town of Griswold resulted in the injuries and subsequent death of John Clapper III in a car crash that happened after school let out for the day. The suit claims the teens involved had cut class.

    The single-car accident, about 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 7, 2010, along Route 201 near Route 138, killed four of five Griswold High School students riding in the vehicle.

    Along with Clapper and Cornell, 16, of 301 Sam Chikan Road, Steven Szklarz, 15, of 786 Route 12, and Dillon Clifford, 16, of 8 Fairview Ave., were killed.

    Joel Gallup, 16, of 31 Woodcrest Drive, was the lone survivor and continues to recuperate.

    In an interview last week, Gallup said the initial lawsuit was "a mockery to the whole accident itself."

    "I don't take offense to it, but it's disrespectful to everyone else that was in the car," Gallup said. "For the love of money is the root of all evil."

    Cornell and Clapper had dated for nearly two years, according to Clapper's MySpace page.

    According to records from the Department of Motor Vehicles, Clapper received a learner's permit Aug. 10. Cornell received her license Oct. 26. Neither had any driving violations.

    Someone with a learner's permit is allowed to have as passengers only a parent, driving instructor or adult 20 years or older who has had a license for four consecutive years.

    During the first six months of having a license, passengers, with the exception of certain qualified adults, are not allowed in the car, and for the second six months only one additional passenger is allowed in the car and that has to be an immediate family member.

    The suit claims that the town "failed to determine … John Clapper III had left school during the school day" on the day of the crash; failed to take attendance and failed to inform Clapper's parents or police that he had left school grounds; and allowed the students to leave without permission despite the fact that "one or more of the students were on a watch list for having done so" before.

    Regulations on website

    Board of Education regulation 5113.2, available on the district's website, www.griswold.k12.ct.us, states, "students are not permitted to leave the building or school grounds without securing an Early Dismissal Pass."

    Regulation 5113.2(a) on truancy states, "by statute, responsibility for assuring that students attend school rests with the parent(s) or other person having control of the child."

    First Selectman Philip Anthony Jr. said Wednesday that as with "any challenge to the town, it is my job to fight aggressively, and I plan on doing so."

    State police spokesman Lt. J. Paul Vance said that the investigation into the crash is almost complete.

    "It's still being worked on and moving forward, and we hope to have it finished up soon," Vance said.

    Attorney for the plaintiffs, Shawn L. Rutchick, with the New London law firm Provatas & McNamara, issued a statement about the case on Wednesday, saying "school-aged children are faced with numerous temptations while they are at school away from their parents."

    "Even children with dedicated, caring parents are susceptible to making poor decisions," it reads. "We entrust schools to educate and prepare our children to enter the world. ... When schools do not act as they are required to horrible tragedies like this can occur - wonderful young people with bright futures can needlessly die.

    "In those cases, schools should be held accountable."

    s.goldstein@theday.com

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