A memorial for two killed in the July 4, 2016 van crash overlooks Petersburg’s South Harbor. (Joe Viechnicki/KFSK)

The family of a young woman killed in a van wreck two years ago is now suing the Petersburg borough and the driver of that van. A lawsuit filed this month claims the borough ignored warnings about Chris Allen’s medical history that should have kept him out of the driver’s seat. Two people died when a borough van crashed on July 4th, 2016. Allen is also scheduled to go on trial for criminal charges from that crash at the end of July.

The wrongful death suit was filed on behalf of the estate of Molly Parks, one of two passengers killed in the van wreck. It names the Petersburg borough and Chris Allen as defendants and seeks unspecified damages.

Parks, who was 18, along with 19-year-old Marie Giesbrecht, the daughter of Petersburg’s borough manager, died in the crash on the morning of July Fourth just south of downtown. Allen, who was 23 at the time was driving and he survived, along with a third passenger Catherine Cardenas who was also 19. All four were working for the borough’s Parks and Recreation Department. They were setting up for a recreational running and walking race as part of the borough’s Fourth of July celebration and were in a borough van when it went off South Nordic Drive and flipped.

The lawsuit alleges that Allen has a seizure disorder and ignored doctors’ orders not to drive. It also alleges that the Petersburg borough knew about Allen’s seizures and ignored multiple warnings from doctors and from borough employees that he shouldn’t be driving. The suit contends Allen was told to drive by his employers.

The civil suit also contends that Allen had been turned down for a job at the borough’s public works department because they knew he wasn’t supposed to drive. It claims the public works director called supervisors in the parks and recreation department to ask why Allen had been hired when he wasn’t allowed to drive. And it contends the parks and recreation department had taken steps after other seizures Allen had suffered at work in the months leading up to the crash. That department had a change-over in directors in the month before the tragedy.

Sara Heideman, the Petersburg borough’s attorney, writes in an email that the borough hadn’t yet been served with the lawsuit and wasn’t able to comment other than to say the contention in the lawsuit is incorrect. She writes, “the borough will appropriately answer the suit after it has had an opportunity to review it. The borough has cooperated fully with the investigation into this tragic accident and will continue to do so.”

Allen’s parents said he had no comment on the lawsuit out of respect to all parties. The attorneys bringing the civil action also declined comment.

While this civil suit has just been filed a criminal case against Allen is ongoing. He is scheduled for trial July 30th, charged with two counts of murder in the second degree and two counts of manslaughter, as well as additional charges. His defense attorney in that case Julie Willoughby said she isn’t representing him in the civil suit and had no comment on it.

However in the criminal case, Willoughby is asking the judge to dismiss the grand jury indictment for multiple reasons. She argues that prosecutors made numerous errors in the grand jury presentation, including allowing hearsay in witness testimony and allowing people who aren’t medical professionals to diagnose that Allen has a problem with seizures.
In court filings, Willoughby claims it wasn’t until after the crash that doctors told Allen not to drive. The defense attorney agrees Allen’s employer told him to drive the van but argues that the van simply slipped out of his control before flipping over.

State prosecutors contend that Allen had a long-documented seizure disorder and had been told not to drive by multiple doctors. They say he suffered a seizure that morning and was unresponsive at the wheel, causing the fatal crash.

Attorneys in both the criminal case and the civil suit allege that Allen had consumed alcohol the night before and knew that drinking could trigger a seizure. There’s disagreement over whether he had alcohol in his system the morning of the crash. His defense attorney contends he did not.