The parents of four Gretna High School teenagers who were killed in a crash last year have filed a tort claim against Sarpy County, alleging that poor roadway design and “negligent, reckless” actions by the county contributed to their daughters’ deaths.
The claim, provided to The World-Herald through a county records request, focuses on the roadway and a guardrail near 180th Street and Platteview Road, the site of a single-vehicle crash on June 17, 2019, that killed 16-year-olds Abigail Barth, Kloe Odermatt and Addisyn Pfeifer and 15-year-old Alex Minardi.
The girls’ parents allege that Platteview Road near the crash site, as well as a guardrail along the south side of the road, were “negligently designed, engineered, constructed and/or maintained,” according to the claim.
The claim was delivered to the county June 12, days before the one-year anniversary of the girls’ deaths.
The parents also allege that the county failed to warn motorists of the dangerous nature of the road and failed to prevent or mitigate crashes.
In a statement issued Wednesday after the story was published by The World-Herald, the families said the tort claim is not a lawsuit against Sarpy County and was filed to preserve their legal options. Their goal is to make Platteview Road safer.
“We believe improvements can be made to that section of the road that will avoid these types of accidents in the future, and if we can spare other families from suffering this same anguish, we intend to explore all options to make that happen,” the statement said.
In the tort claim, each family refers to wrongful-death damages related to emotional distress, loss of financial support and the loss of each girl, as well as expenses related to funerals and services, medical care, the past and future loss of each girl’s earning potential and the pain and suffering experienced by each parent.
The claim does not assign a monetary figure to those damages. It names as plaintiffs Bradley and Amy Barth; John and Tonja Minardi; Julie Odermatt; and Justin and Wendy Pfeifer.
A fifth girl who was in the car that crashed, Roan Brandon, was hospitalized with burns and a broken collarbone afterward. She and her family are not named as part of the tort claim.
Megan Stubenhofer-Barrett, a Sarpy County spokeswoman, said county officials cannot comment on pending legal matters. The guardrail has been replaced because it was damaged in the crash, she said. No other changes to the roadway have been made.
The tort claim does not specifically describe any alleged deficiencies of the road or guardrail. Mike Coyle, an attorney representing the families, responded to questions about the claim with an emailed statement.
“On June 17, 2019, four exceptional high school students needlessly lost their lives,” Coyle wrote in part. “Details as to the specific issues related to the cause of the crash, as well as the identity of other responsible parties, will be forthcoming.”
The four girls — all soon-to-be juniors at Gretna High — met up that night in the high school’s parking lot and took off in Barth’s 2017 Ford Fusion, authorities have said. Barth was driving.
The vehicle was headed east when it veered off Platteview Road just west of 180th Street, came to rest in a creek and caught fire. Investigators have said the car was traveling over 90 mph at the time of the crash, which was reported about 11:10 p.m.
The posted speed limit on Platteview Road is 55 mph, as it was at the time of the crash.
Four of the five girls had alcohol in their systems, the Sarpy County Sheriff’s Office has said. Barth had a blood alcohol reading of .09, a forensic examination found.
The passengers in the vehicle had the following blood alcohol readings, according to authorities: Brandon, .05; Minardi, .02; Odermatt, .10; and Pfeifer, .00.
In Nebraska, it’s illegal for anyone to drive with a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher. The legal drinking age in the state is 21. It’s illegal for people in the state who are younger than 21 to have a blood alcohol reading above .02.
Coyle did not address a question about what role the girls’ alcohol consumption may play in the tort claim.
The girls’ deaths led to an outpouring of grief and support while also prompting tough community conversations about underage drinking and driving.
But despite pleas from the Sheriff’s Office and other county leaders, the person who provided alcohol to the girls has not been publicly determined, and no arrests have been made.
The case remains open, but authorities say they need more information in order to hold someone responsible.
Lawsuits can be brought against local governments only in certain cases. The filing of a tort claim against a local body is the first step a private citizen must take to bring a lawsuit against the government.
The county has six months to respond to the claim.