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Guest v. Hansen

Background facts in 2nd Circuit decision

An overall view of the environment at Paul Smith’s College was presented to the Circuit Court in the Statement of Facts portion of the Estate’s brief.   The following is what the Second Circuit Court of Appleals felt fit to include in its decision:

“I. Background

A. Factual Background

Because this case comes to us on appeal of a grant of summary judgment to Defendants, we view the facts in the light most favorable to Mr. Guest, and recount them accordingly. See Pyke v. Cuomo, 567 F.3d 74, 76 (2d Cir. 2009).

1. The Relationship Between the College and the Lake

Paul Smith is a college located on the northern shore of Lower St. Regis Lake ("the lake") in Adirondack Park. The College owns over 14,000 acres of property, much of it forest. The campus itself is on the edge of the lake, 12 miles from the nearest town; several of the College's buildings, including some of its dormitories, are steps from the lake. Although the College owns much of the land around the lake, it does not own the lake itself, which is state property. The College's promotional materials cite the lake and the surrounding, College-owned forest as one of the College's principal attractions.

Paul Smith students occasionally built bonfires and consumed alcohol on the lake once it froze over, viewing it as a place where "Paul Smith[`]s College had no jurisdiction." Pl.'s App. 98. College safety officers sometimes intervened on the lake, breaking up parties and stopping dangerous behavior. On some occasions, they called the State Police; on others, they did not.

2. Events on Campus the Weekend of February 4-6, 2005

On Friday night and early Saturday morning, February 4-5, 2005, Paul Smith students held a bonfire party on the lake, which was visible and audible from campus. Defendant Toni Marra, Paul Smith's Director of Residence Life, and campus safety officer JS observed "[a] large fire, yelling and screaming," and contacted the State Police. Pl.'s. App. 140. A little later, JS saw a truck "doing donuts" (driving quickly in a tight circle) on the ice of the lake. By the time the State Police arrived, the party had dispersed; a trooper told campus security to call the State Police immediately if they "observed any unsafe or illegal behavior." Pl.'s App. 58. JS later saw the same truck and confronted the driver, who acknowledged having drunk eight to ten beers. Although Marra confiscated the driver's keys, she instructed JS not to call the State Police.

The following night, the night of February 5, students again threw a party centered around a bonfire on the lake, located about 50 to 75 yards from the shore and in view of the main campus and of various dormitories. The fire was built with wood that students brought from the College's forestry cabin. Because of the cold temperature, students would frequently return to the dormitories to warm up, before heading back onto the lake. The party was apparently a raucous affair, with beer freely available to the crowd of students, both of legal drinking age and below. By one estimate, the party at its peak had between eighty and one hundred students present, and there were as many as twenty snowmobiles driving around the lake.

Shortly before midnight, a snowmobile carrying two students crashed into a tree; the students were unharmed. A little while later, Campus Safety received a report of the snowmobile crash. Although they were informed that there were no injuries, Marra and JS went to the lake around 12:45 a.m. JS believed that the party was "getting out of control," but Marra instructed him not to attempt to shut it down or take any disciplinary actions "as it would cause a riot." Pl.'s App. 60, 85. Instead, the two stayed at the party for about fifteen minutes, then "advised the students to be safe, keep the speed down, and call [Campus Safety] if there was [sic] any problems." Pl.'s App. 60.

3. Kristine Guest's and Joshua Rau's Activities on February 5-6

Kristine was, at the time of her death, a 20-year-old student at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut. On February 5, Kristine and three friends drove to Paul Smith to visit Rau, a Paul Smith student, to celebrate his twentieth birthday. The group went to the town of Saranac Lake for dinner, then returned to Rau's dorm room at 8 or 9 p.m., where they began playing a drinking game. Around 10 p.m., the group went out to the lake, which was about fifteen steps from Rau's dormitory. The bonfire party had already been going on for four or five hours at that point. Kristine and Rau went back and forth from Rau's dorm room to the bonfire party repeatedly over the next several hours. Like many other students, the group Kristine and Rau were with brought alcohol with them on their trips from campus to the lake and back.

Kristine and her friends returned to Rau's dorm room around 3:30 a.m. They had, by then, apparently stopped drinking alcohol. Around 4:30 a.m., they headed back out to the lake, hoping, in due course, to watch the sunrise. A heavy fog that had lain over the lake much of the night had begun to lift, and Rau's friend Christopher Hansen agreed to let Rau drive his snowmobile around the lake. There were approximately four other snowmobiles still riding around the lake. Rau gave rides to Kristine's two out-of-town friends, without incident. But then Rau drove out further onto the lake with Kristine. Neither was wearing helmets. The two crashed into a promontory at a peninsula called Peter's Rock, a piece of land owned by the College. The snowmobile and its passengers left the ground, crashing into trees and a lean-to on Peter's Rock. Kristine and Rau were killed.”

Note-The above is duplicated directly from the 2nd Circuit's decision in Guest v. Hansen except for substituting JS for the name of the Safety Officer involved.   The decision inaccurately portrays his roll as similar to Marra's.  However, if his repeated recommendations to call the State Police had prevailed, he would have been an unsung hero, unsung since no one would know of his actions since tragedy would have been avoided.  The substitution is deemed appropriate to  limit associating his name to this dreadful event during web searches.
 

 

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In loving Memory of Kristine Guest