School Closings Alert

Families sue driver that caused Northway crash

The Shenendehowa High School girls’ varsity and junior varsity basketball teams played Tuesday in the first sporting events on campus since the Dec. 1 car crash that killed students Deanna Rivers and Chris Stewart.
The Shenendehowa High School girls’ varsity and junior varsity basketball teams played Tuesday in the first sporting events on campus since the Dec. 1 car crash that killed students Deanna Rivers and Chris Stewart.
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Updated: 8/21 2:41 pm
ALBANY, N.Y. -- The families of two Shenendehowa High School students killed in a crash on the Northway in December 2012 have filed a suit against the driver accused of causing the crash and others.

Deana Rivers, 17, was killed in the crash on December 1, 2012 while with her friends. The driver of the vehicle she was in, Christopher Stewart, 17, was also killed in the crash. Two other passengers in Stewart's vehicle, Bailey Wind, of Latham, and Matthew Hardy, of Clifton Park, were seriously injured, but survived.

Both the Rivers and Stewart families filed the lawsuit Thursday in State Supreme Court in Saratoga County. In November 2013, a lawyer for Bailey Wind and Matt Hardy confirmed they has also filed a suit against the driver guilty of causing the crash, Dennis Drue.

Drue pleaded guilty in September 2013 to 58 counts for causing the crash. In December 2013 he was sentenced to 5 to 15 years in State Prison.

Also named in the suit is Drue's mother, Gail Pendergast, who was an owner of the 2004 Volvo that he was driving. The suit also names as defendants, KOTO Japanese Steak House, on Wolf Road in Colonie, and the bartender and waiter who served alcoholic drinks to Drue for two hours immediately before the crash.

The complaint alleges that KOTO and its employees served liquor to Drue when he was visibly intoxicated, in violation of New York State's “Dram Shop Act”, and that the deadly crash occurred minutes after Drue left the restaurant.

The lawsuit does not seek a specific monetary amount. The Rivers family lawyer says they hope to learn all the circumstances under which Drue left KOTO and got behind the wheel of his vehicle during the course of the lawsuit. They hope to discover “how he was entrusted with and allowed to operate a vehicle owned by another despite fourteen moving traffic violations, six license suspensions or revocations, and four prior accidents where he was determined to have been at fault."

Drue told police he had one drink with dinner the night of the crash and blew a BAC of .08 percent. He repeatedly said he hit black ice and lost control, and the other car involved in the crash must have hit the same ice. He was taken to the hospital for minor injuries after the crash where he said he would speak voluntarily and take a blood test after being read his rights.

District Attorney Jim Murphy previously stated an investigation revealed Drue had been drinking at KOTO Restaurant in Colonie where it was determined that he had 4 shots of alcohol, gin and tonics, and beers. He said Drue drove up the Northway toward Saratoga County when he began to text another person while driving. As Drue approached what became the area of the crash, NYSP accident reconstruction experts said his speed was nearly 80 miles per hour. Eye witnesses to the crash told authorities that the defendant never used his brakes before impact.

A computer chip was removed from Drue's Volvo, which was involved in the crash, and it was shipped to Sweden. This allowed Volvo authorized experts to examine and provide details as to the information the chip stored prior to impact, and the report confirmed the vehicle's speed at roughly 80 mph.

It was later determined that Drue had 8.4 nanograms/milliliter of active byproduct of marijuana THC in his blood stream, an extremely high quantity. According to authorities, this level would affect his reaction time and capability to control his muscle movement.

Drue was arrested on January 4, 2013 at his Halfmoon home. While he was being transported, court documents state Drue suddenly said, "This is bullsh**. Those kids slammed on their brakes. This is just an accident, nothing more. You just need somebody to parade around for their deaths." He also continued to claim there were no drugs in his system.

Drue later pleaded guilty to the charges in Saratoga County Court only a few days before his trial was scheduled to begin.

When he pleaded guilty, the judge asked Drue if he caused the death of two Shen students, he replied "yes." Drue also admitted he was high on marijuana and speeding at the time of the crash.

The Rivers family lawyer says they hope to learn all the circumstances under which Drue left KOTO and got behind the wheel of his vehicle during the course of the lawsuit. They hope to discover “how he was entrusted with and allowed to operate a vehicle owned by another despite fourteen moving traffic violations, six license suspensions or revocations, and four prior accidents where he was determined to have been at fault.
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