$6.1 million awarded in stadium fatality

Published by The Boston Globe, December 20, 2007
By Jonathan Saltzman

When the windshield shattered and bloodied passengers screamed in agony, many people on the bus carrying golf tournament spectators to Gillette Stadium thought it was a terrorist attack.

The cause of the accident that maimed several passengers on Aug. 29, 2003, and killed a Cape Cod man about a month later was far more prosaic: A 300-pound metal security gate left unsecured had swung in the wind and torn through the front of the bus, pinning passengers in their seats.

This week, a Suffolk Superior Court jury found a real estate company controlled by New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft, a security contractor, and a parking contractor liable and ordered them to pay $6.1 million, including interest, to the family of Thomas Kelly, a 64-year-old passenger who died as a result of the accident.

"It can't replace him; no amount of money can replace him," said Kelly’s widow, Janice Kelly of South Yarmouth. But she called Tuesday’s late-afternoon verdict fair, adding, "It was an awful tragedy, and I want to put it behind me."

After a two-week trial and deliberations that lasted a day and a half, the jury concluded that Foxboro Realty Associates, Apollo Security, and Standard Parking were negligent for failing to secure the gate that blew into a bus operated by the Peter Pan Arrow line, according to Andrew C. Meyer, who represented Kelly’s family in the wrongful death suit.

Lawrence Kenney—a lawyer for Foxboro Realty, a Kraft Group company—said his client plans to appeal. He said neither the parking contractor nor security contractor had told Foxboro Realty that the gate had not been secured with a 14-inch-long steel pin.

"We're very saddened by what happened," Kenney said of the accident. "But in terms of the defendant’s liability, we don't think there was adequate evidence to impose liability."

The accident occurred on a Friday around 1:30 p.m., as a shuttle bus returned spectators from the Deutsche Bank Championship at the Tournament Players Club course in Norton to satellite parking next to Gillette Stadium. Thomas Kelly, a retired West Yarmouth basketball coach and English teacher who grew up in Dorchester, had gone to the tournament to see Tiger Woods play.

"It was a great day that was spoiled in the worst way by the carelessness of persons who were responsible for securing the gate," Meyer said.

The security gate shattered the windshield and sliced through the passenger cabin of the moving bus, pinning several passengers in their seats, including Kelly.

Another injured passenger, Constance Cowry of Taunton, was flown by helicopter to Boston Medical Center, as was Kelly, said Meyer. She lost her leg and testified at the trial, he said.

Kelly underwent four operations in eight days in an attempt to save an injured right leg, but he died less than a month after the accident after suffering a heart attack or a blood clot, Meyer said.

The swinging gate impaled a third passenger, crushing his pelvis, Meyer said.

Several of the approximately 50 passengers told reporters after the accident that they thought the crash was a bomb. Meyer said some believed it was a terrorist attack and pushed out the windows to flee.

"People were bleeding in the bus," he said. "There was carnage all around."

Kelly’s family also sued the bus company, contending that the driver was speeding after turning off Route 1 and entering the gate on the west side of the stadium. However, the jury cleared the bus company of liability.

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