Million Dollar Settlement for Wrongful Death of Young Child
San Jose youth drowned in Alaskan river after he was left in the care of a trusted family friend who allowed the child to ride in a vehicle driven by a drunk driver.
November 28, 2011 – San Jose, CA – The parents of a 12-year-old San Jose, California child killed by the actions of a drunk driver have secured a one million dollar settlement against a close family friend trusted with the safety of the youth while on a summer fishing trip to Seward, Alaska, located 120 miles south of Anchorage.
The lawsuit filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court, Case 1-11-CV-202283, alleged that a trusted family friend, Randy Sozanski, knowingly allowed an acquaintance, Dan Armstrong, to drive the youth- Matt L., even though Sozanski knew Armstrong had been drinking heavily. Armstrong’s car ended up in the Resurrection River on the Kenai Peninsula near Seward, Alaska drowning Matthew who was later found in the submerged vehicle still strapped in his seatbelt. Armstrong escaped from the submerged vehicle saving his own life.
Armstrong was sentenced to four years in prison after pleading guilty to negligent homicide, driving under the influence and failure to insure his vehicle.
Because Armstrong had no insurance and Sozanski was trusted to care for Matt while on vacation, attorney Timothy McMahon, law firm of Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, on behalf of Matt’s family, sued Sozanski for Wrongful Death.
Affectionately referred to by the family as “Uncle Randy,” Sozanski was trusted by Matt’s parents to take him on a fishing trip to Alaska. Tragically, in the early morning hours of the accident, Sozanski, after partying all night with friends, made the decision to have Matt ride with Armstrong even though he knew Armstrong had consumed enough alcohol to register him legally drunk. The family made the decision to sue Sozanski after determining that they had been lied to about what really took place on the Alaskan trip.
Sozanski first sent his son to tell the family that Matt was killed when Armstrong went into the river after the vehicle was unexpectedly hit by a “mudslide”. A day later Sozanski showed up and told the family a different story, stating Armstrong’s wheels “just fell out from under the truck at the edge of a riverbank and it rolled into the river- a freak accident”. When Matt’s mother travelled to Alaska to reclaim her son’s body, Sozanski acted nervous. He asked her not to read the local newspapers or talk to police about the circumstances of Matt’s death claiming it would just “upset” her. After demanding to and finally speaking with the Alaska troopers who investigated the incident, Matt’s mom learned she had been lied to by Sozanski and his friends.
According to Alaska State Troopers, Sozanski and his group (that included Armstrong) were drinking on the banks of the Resurrection River in the middle of the night at a “bonfire”. Sozanski brought Matt to the late night “bonfire party” instead of letting him sleep at the vacation home. When they left, Sozanski allowed Matt to ride with Armstrong who minutes later drove his vehicle straight into the Resurrection River after missing a turn on the road. It took almost 2 hours before Sozanski’s group called for help. During this time it was suspected that members of the party were trying to destroy the evidence of drinking and other illicit activity, waiting for Armstrong’s alcohol level to subside, and were developing their “story” to tell the police. While they waited to call police, Matt remained trapped to the back seat of the car submerged in the icy water at the bottom of the river. Ultimately, hours later, Armstrong’s blood alcohol level was tested and estimated to have been above the legal limit at the time of the accident. He also tested positive for marijuana. The investigation determined that Armstrong drove into the river after missing a turn on a dirt road. Armstrong had a previous citation of reckless driving with alcohol on his record.
“Adults have a moral and legal obligation to protect a child under their custody. This was a trusted family friend, affectionately called “uncle” who promised that he would never let Matt out of his sight. You should never put a child in a position to get hurt. Having a young boy join an adult party in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness and then ride with a drunk driver– essentially abandoning your obligations to the boy and his parents is unacceptable. Unfortunately, in this case Sozanski’s actions had a tragic ending; any parents worst nightmare. Hopefully, by resolving the civil case against Sozanski, in some small way, justice has been achieved. Matt’s parents now have closure “, said McMahon.