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Drag-racing case in jury’s hands

By Michael Gordon
mgordon@charlotteobserver.com

A Mecklenburg County jury resumed deliberations Wednesday in a $15 million lawsuit filed against a Charlotte developer by the families of three people killed during a fatal 2009 drag race on N.C. 49.

When they returned to the courthouse, the six men and six women found the same question confronting them: Did Crescent Resources contribute to the deaths by not installing a promised traffic signal where the fatal crash occurred?

In closing arguments Tuesday, Crescent attorney Greg York said that answer is no.

Crescent had agreed to install the light in return for permission to build the massive Palisades development near the South Carolina line, York said. But development in the Palisades had stalled, and he said two Crescent traffic studies, the latest in 2008-09, showed that the light was not needed.

York said the fatal crash was not caused by the lack of a signal but by the “outrageous behavior of two very irresponsible people.”

On April 4, 2009, Tyler Stasko and Carlene Atkinson started racing at the Shopton Road light on N.C. 49.

A little more than a minute later, at the Riverpointe/Palisades intersection, Stasko’s Mitsubishi Eclipse rammed the car carrying Cindy Furr and her 2-year-old daughter Mackie.

Both died. So did Hunter Holt, a 13-year-old passenger in Stasko’s car. Both drivers are serving prison terms.

In their suit, the families say the traffic light might have kept the accident from happening. Not only might Stasko have slowed, their attorneys told the jury, but Furr would not have entered the intersection where the crash occurred.

Crescent, they said, ignored state and county requests to install the light. For years, residents had complained that the intersection had grown more dangerous, particularly since Crescent had significantly widened the main entrance into the Palisades.

Before a light was installed, according to testimony during a trial of more than two weeks, the Palisades entrance was the only intersection in the state with double turn lanes and no signal.

“Clearly, Crescent should have fulfilled the promise it made in 2001,” said Fred DeVore, the attorney for Furr’s husband, Steve Price.

“They gambled. They said, ‘We bet we can put this off long enough until we can get someone else to pay.’ They gambled … with the lives of the Holt family and the Price family.”

York, though, said the plaintiffs can’t prove that the light would have made any difference. Stasko was driving more than 85 mph when his car struck Furr’s, and there was no sign he tried to stop.

The Crescent lawyer went on to argue that the families cannot collect damages because both Furr and Hunter Holt contributed to their own deaths – Furr by entering the intersection with traffic approaching, Hunter by not asking the 23-year-old Stasko to slow down or let him out of the car.

Attorney Amanda Mingo, speaking for the Holt family, said Crescent’s inaction threatened lives.

“Safety? They threw it out the window, and they’re asking you to do the same thing,” she told the jury.

“When people ask you why you gave these families so much money, you look them in the eyes and tell them, ‘Because Crescent willfully endangered the public, and they didn’t do the one single thing to prevent that.’”

Gordon: 704-358-5095.
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