Judge Dismisses Fraternity from Kentucky Wrongful Death Suit

January 15, 2009

A federal judge has dismissed a national fraternity from a wrongful death suit stemming from a fatal accident involving a state lawmaker’s son that occurred after a party in southwestern Kentucky.

U.S. District Judge Thomas B. Russell in Paducah ruled that the national Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, its chapter at Murray State University and the group’s adviser, Danny Patterson, cannot be held responsible for the behavior of Burgess Harrison Yonts.

“Yonts consumed his own alcohol at various locations throughout the evening of Nov. 10,” Russell wrote. “He was not served alcohol at the fraternity chapter.”

Yonts, 23, was convicted in February 2007 of wanton murder, drunken driving and other charges in the crash that killed Murray State graduate student Nadia Shaheen in 2005.

Shaheen’s estate sued Yonts, the fraternity and 74 of its members. The suit claims the fraternity and its members were negligent by serving alcohol to Yonts, who was 20 at the time and under the legal drinking age; by allowing him to get drunk; and by allowing him to drive his car after the party.

Russell previously dismissed 62 fraternity members from the suit, saying there is no evidence that the fraternity members provided alcohol to Yonts.

Yonts was a student at Murray State and a member of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity. Shaheen’s body was found in a ditch the morning of the collision. Officials said Shaheen died of blunt force trauma to the head.

Murray police said they believe Shaheen was walking home from the university’s Curris Center when she was struck.

Shaheen, a 62-year-old native of Egypt, was to graduate in December 2005 in the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages program.

Yonts was sentenced to 20 years in prison but had that commuted by former Gov. Ernie Fletcher.

Under his original sentence, Yonts would have had to serve 17 years before becoming eligible for parole. Under his commuted sentence, he will have to serve eight years.

Russell allowed the civil case against Yonts, the son of state Rep. Brent Yonts, and some of the fraternity members to continue.

A message left for Jonathan Freed, the attorney for Shaheen’s family, was not immediately returned Tuesday. Richard Walter, the attorney for the fraternity and Patterson, was in trial and not immediately available for comment.

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