Driver, Citing Harm from Publicity, Sues Families of Vt. Crash Victims

May 30, 2006

The driver in a fatal accident in Westmore two years ago has sued the families of the two victims of the crash.

Charles Meyer and his mother Julie Jensen, who had a summer home in the area, said they have been the subject of critical public sentiment and claim that the two other teenagers were partly responsible for their deaths.

“The claims made by the defendants, coupled with the ongoing negative public sentiment toward the plaintiffs, have caused and continue to cause harm to the plaintiffs,” the lawsuit said.

Norman Woodlard, 16, and Phillip Leno, 17, died when the speeding car they were riding in smashed into ledges on Route 5A near Lake Willoughby.

Meyer, 14, was driving without a license.

“I still can’t believe it happened,” said Woolard’s mother, Elaine Cashin of Westmore.

“What more can they take from us?” she said of the lawsuit. “I’m dumbfounded.”

Leno’s father Paul said the lawsuit was hard to believe.

“She didn’t have any business purchasing that car for him,” Paul Leno said of Jensen. “Her son shouldn’t even have had access to a car like that.”

The two families plan to file lawsuits this week against Jenson, a wealthy lawyer who owns homes in Chevy Chase, Md. and Irving, Texas, and her son.

“They know we’re going to come after the insurance money,” Paul Leno said. “I don’t care who got sued first. It’s all going to come out in the end.”

Woolard had worked as a landscaper most of the day at Jensen’s home in Brownington on Aug. 24, 2004.

Meyer talked Woolard, who had a junior driver’s license, into driving the sports car, a police affivadit said. Leno accompanied them.

The lawsuit argues that Jensen permitted Woolard to drive and he then chose to let Meyer drive the vehicle.

Attorneys for Leno and Woolard dispute the allegations. They said Jensen handed the car keys to her son, and argue that she was wrong even if she had meant for Woolard to drive.

“She gave to her son a highly lethal weapon,” said Leno’s attorney, Duncan Kilmartin of Newport. “She also never made any inquiry as to whether Woolard was competent to drive the vehicle if he did.”

The lawyer for Jensen and Meyer did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Their attorney, Mark Heath of Burlington, wrote in the lawsuit in federal court that “without the knowledge or consent of Jensen, Woolard allowed Meyer … to drive the vehicle.”

Heath said Jensen and her son have endured “public outrage” in response to local media stories with “embellished accounts of the accident.”

Meyer originally faced felony manslaughter charges. Those charges were changed to two counts of grossly negligent operation.

Meyer apologized to the victims’ relatives at a family court hearing.

Jenson has given her Brownington home and 73 acres of property to Have Justice Will Travel Inc., a a group that offers legal assistance to poor, abused women and their children.

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