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The annual Harvard University-Yale University football game is a longstanding tradition for the two Ivy League schools, stretching back to their first matchup in 1875.
As with most college football games, the pre-game tailgate is as much a part of the experience as the game itself. As The New York Times describes it, “Students, most of them with high SAT scores and low interest in football, lobby fiercely for the right to forsake their studious dignity for one Saturday morning and guzzle cheap beer while tromping in a muddy field. Some may eventually stumble into the Yale Bowl or Harvard Stadium; many others will not.”
However, the Yale-hosted 2011 game was marred by a tragic accident that is still resonating more than two years later.
Shortly before 10 a.m. on gameday, Yale student Brendan Ross lost control of the U-Haul truck he was driving to his fraternity tailgate, striking three people. One woman — Nancy Barry — was killed, while the two other people — Sarah Short, a graduate student in Yale School of Management, and Elizabeth Dernbach, a computer lab assistant at Harvard — were hospitalized for their injuries.
In the Yale Daily News’ coverage following the accident, the student newspaper describes the immediate chaos, quoting one student who said, “There was a wave of screams when we saw the truck was going through the crowd, then a lot of ‘Oh my God’ and ‘What the hell is going on?'”
Another student told the Daily News she saw bodies on the ground, “one of which was not moving.”
However, the Daily News reported, “as conflicting reports of the incident spread among students and alumni, the tailgate continued throughout the morning largely uninterrupted. The music stopped after the crash, but as rumors spread that the injuries were not serious, the music and partying resumed.” The tragic news was only confirmed to the crowd at halftime, when the game’s announcer called for a moment of silence in the stadium.
According to The Times, Barry was not affiliated with either school, and was only in New Haven to visit Short, her friend from high school.
More than two years later, the tragedy has added another chapter as Barry’s estate and Short have filed separate and identical lawsuits against 86 former and current Yale students — the entire brotherhood of Ross’ fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon, at the time of the fatal accident.
These lawsuits join two other lawsuits that have been filed against Yale University and the Sigma Phi Epsilon national fraternity, as well as other parties. Short’s attorney told the Daily News that he “expects the four lawsuits to be potentially joined into one in the near future.”
It is still unclear what the exact cause of the accident was. Ross — the U-Haul driver — was questioned at New Haven Police Department headquarters, but not arrested, and the NHPD confirmed he passed a field sobriety test. While Ross’ attorney originally attributed the crash to an “apparent vehicle malfunction,” the Daily News reported that “an NHPD mechanic ‘found no issues with the gas pedal, cable or throttle body’ and said the U-Haul’s brake system was in ‘good working order.'”
Ross turned himself in for arrest in May 2012, pleading not guilty to criminal misdemeanor charges of negligent homicide with a motor vehicle and reckless driving, the Daily News reported. According to the arrest warrant application, Ross “applied no brakes [on the U-Haul] as he traveled through the crowd” and “failed to maintain control of his vehicle, and, instead, accelerated into a crowd of people.”
In February 2013, Ross agreed to enter a probationary program that — since he was a first-time offender — allowed him to maintain a clean record. The Daily News reported that with this new plea deal, Ross’ charges were revised to reckless driving and reckless endangerment and he would have to complete a total of 400 hours of community service.