Conn. firefighter, state sued in college student's death

Jeffny Pally's parents allege the firefighter who operated the fire vehicle that struck their daughter did so with negligence and carelessness


By Vinny Vella
The Hartford Courant

WEST HARTFORD, Conn. — The parents of a University of Connecticut student who was killed in October after being run over by a campus fire department vehicle are suing the driver and the state over "the negligence and carelessness" that led to the young woman's death.

Abraham and Shiny Chemmarappally, of West Hartford, filed the suit Feb. 2 in civil court in Hartford on behalf of their daughter, Jeffny Pally. Pally, 19, was struck Oct. 16 by the vehicle after falling asleep in front of the UConn Fire Department's facility on the university's Storrs campus.

The lawsuit has gained renewed prominence after the state police concluded their criminal investigation into the incident Friday, ultimately charging six UConn students with alcohol-related offenses.

"The Chemmarappally family deeply mourns the death of their daughter and sister, Jeffny Pally. There remain many unanswered questions regarding her death," Michael J. Walsh, the attorney who filed the suit, said in a statement Monday.

"It is the sincere hope of the Chemmarappallys that the investigation of this tragic event may be the first step towards the development of measures to prevent any other family from having to experience a similar tragedy," Walsh added.

In the suit, the family alleges that Dana E. Barrow Jr., the firefighter who struck Pally, operated his Chevrolet Tahoe "in a reckless, willful and wanton manner, and in a manner that showed reckless and malicious disregard for the safety of other persons" because he didn't immediately stop after hitting Pally.

Stephanie Reitz, a spokeswoman for UConn, said Monday that the university cannot comment on pending litigation.

The teen walked to the fire department's facility on her own after leaving a fraternity party. Her blood alcohol level was .25, three times the state's legal limit, at the time of her death, according to state police.

Her death was ruled an accident caused by blunt-force trauma, according to the office of the chief medical examiner.

Surveillance from the scene shows Pally was collapsed against one of the garage's vehicle bay doors for 20 minutes before Barrow entered his SUV. She fell backward as the door opened and was hit by Barrow as he drove forward, state police said.

Barrow told police that he felt a bump as he pulled away from the garage to respond to a fire alarm at a nearby dorm, but assumed he ran over firefighting equipment. He wasn't able to see what was on the ground in his rear view mirror, but thought it was the piece of equipment, he added.

He didn't realize he had struck Pally until he returned from the call about 30 minutes later and found her body, according to police documents.

Matthew Gedansky, the state's attorney for Tolland, said Barrow has been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing in the case.

"The accident reconstruction investigation determined that the firefighter could not see Ms. Pally in the position she was in," Gedansky told the Courant on Friday. "We measured the line of sight, we recreated the incident and there's no possible way he could have seen her."

Gedansky spoke as, after months of investigating, six UConn students were charged with allowing a minor to possess alcohol and related offenses for hosting an off-campus party at a house affiliated with Kappa Sigma fraternity. Multiple witnesses told state police that Pally attended the party in the hours leading up to the incident.

The fraternity has since been suspended from campus, according to the university.

Copyright 2017 The Hartford Courant

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