Meriden skateboarder sues bus company, drivers, school board over crash

Meriden skateboarder sues bus company, drivers, school board over crash

reporter photo

MERIDEN — A lawsuit filed by a skateboarder who was hit by a school bus as he left Wilcox Technical High School in 2017 is set to go to trial later this year, according to court records.

Former Wilcox student Zachary McDonald sued New Britain Transportation, two bus drivers, the city and the Meriden Board of Education. McDonald, who was seriously injured, filed suit in August 2019 seeking an undisclosed amount in damages.

“We’re asking for full justice,” said McDonald’s lawyer James Nugent of New Haven. “It was a horrible injury with months of rehabilitation. It was a horrible ordeal for a young boy to live through and fortunately survive.”

McDonald was 17 when the accident occurred in front of nearby Platt High School on Oct. 13, 2017. According to police, McDonald was traveling on Coe Avenue away from Wilcox on his skateboard when he was struck in a crosswalk.

The lawsuit claims that a bus driven by Tiffany Couture was parked just before the crosswalk, obstructing the view of the driver of the bus that struck McDonald. The small bus that hit the teen was traveling westbound and driven by Melissa Lopez.

But Couture said Friday that she pulled over after the teen was struck and was not parked near the crosswalk before the incident. “That’s a 100 percent total false statement and I even told the cops that. They had us reenact everything,” she said. 

“The only reason I was parked is because I was driving and saw the kid get hit. I automatically pulled over and called the bus company,” she said. “I was being a good Samaritan. I’m not going to see someone get hit and keep driving.”

Lopez could not be reached for comment.

McDonald was taken by Life Star helicopter to Hartford Hospital. According to the lawsuit, his leg, foot and toes were fractured, he suffered post-traumatic brain injury, hearing loss, abdominal hemorrhage and other injuries. 

“As a further result of the negligence and carelessness of the defendant, NBT, acting through its duly authorized agents...and/or employees, Zachary McDonald’s enjoyment of life’s activities has been diminished,” the lawsuit states.  

Meriden School Superintendent Mark Benigni would not comment on the pending litigation nor would attorney Claire McNamara of Branford, who represents the Board of Education and the city.

Among other things, the lawsuit stated New Britain Transportation failed to properly train its employees. It also claimed the city erred in placement of the crosswalk, and should have conducted traffic studies to review conditions surrounding the arrival and dismissal times of three large schools in the immediate area.

Lincoln Middle School shares the same road with Platt and Wilcox Tech. 

Representatives from New Britain Transportation could not be reached for comment Wednesday but CEO Peter Agostini said two years ago the driver was not at fault.

"The driver really couldn't do anything,"  Agostini told the Record-Journal. "Traffic was busy, the kid was darting in an out of traffic on his skateboard and swerved a hard left. There is no question in my mind, he lost control. Fortunately, traffic was going slow, or it could have been a lot worse.”

The lawsuit further states a crossing guard or police should have been placed at crosswalks during arrival and exit times.  

“This was a completely avoidable accident,” Nugent said. “The city could have planned to avoid this disaster, the bus company could have trained their employees better in safety.”

The Meriden police accident reconstruction team investigated and found McDonald at fault for disregarding traffic when he darted into the street behind the bus on his skateboard, according to documents included in the lawsuit. The two bus drivers were not cited or charged.

Nugent plans to depose the police who reviewed the accident.

Records requested

The city and Meriden Public Schools recently asked for McDonald’s educational history from elementary school through high school including social, emotional, individualized education plans and raw data. They are also seeking psychological, neuropsychological and IQ tests taken throughout McDonald’s lifetime as well as records from substance abuse treatments. 

“In order to conduct a proper analysis as to plaintiff’s claims of any stress, worry, loss of life’s enjoyment, and loss of income potential, it will be necessary for the defendants to obtain copies of records for all psychiatric, psychological and psychotherapy treatment received by plaintiff for three years before the date of the subject incident to the present,” the defense motion states. 

The request for additional records also stated that McDonald tested positive for cannabinoid and alcohol at Hartford Hospital on the day of the incident.

 “As plaintiff will be judged by his actions on the day of the incident and his awareness of the dangers associated with crossing a roadway outside the confines of a crosswalk, any use of substances which may have affected his judgment will be relevant,” the defendants’ motion states.

 The court judge has not ruled yet on the request.
Twitter: @Cconnbiz

Life Star takes off transporting Zachary McDonald for treatment after he was struck by a bus in front of Platt High School on Oct. 13, 2017. | Bryan Lipiner, Record-Journal