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Pickup truck driver in crash that killed college rower sues Holy Cross for injuries

STORY BY RAY MCNULTY (Week of October 1, 2020)

The driver of the pickup truck involved in the crash that killed a member of the Holy Cross rowing team at the intersection of Indian River Boulevard and the Barber Bridge in January has filed a federal lawsuit against the college.

Ronald Wolf, now of Vero Beach, claims that Holy Cross women’s rowing coach Patrick Diggins, who was driving a rented passenger van carrying 12 team members, was at fault in the accident. Wolf said he sustained “severe, catastrophic and permanent injuries to his body.”

According to a Vero Beach Police Department report, Diggins was turning the southbound van left onto the bridge at about 7:30 a.m. Jan. 15 and pulled directly into the path of Wolf’s northbound red Dodge Ram truck without yielding to oncoming traffic and caused the collision.

Holy Cross sophomore Grace Rett, one day after celebrating her 20th birthday here, was sitting in the right-front passenger seat and was killed in the crash. Six of her teammates, along with Diggins and Wolf, were rushed to the trauma unit at Lawnwood Medical Regional Center in Fort Pierce with serious injuries.

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Florida, also names the now-retired Diggins as a defendant, alleging that he carelessly allowed himself to become distracted and was “looking down and away from the oncoming traffic, presumably at a cellphone” when the crash occurred.

In addition, the complaint alleges that Holy Cross employees had previously “expressed concern” to college officials regarding the coach’s “flippant driving habits and propensity to text while operating motor vehicles” while working for the Massachusetts school.

Holy Cross’ failure to intervene beforehand, the complaint argues, makes the college liable for Diggins’ actions that led to the crash, which Wolf claims resulted in injuries that have impaired his ability to earn a living and, at the same time, left him with medical, nursing, rehabilitation and hospital bills to pay.

“All of the said damages and injuries are permanent and continuing in nature,” the complaint states.

Wolf and his wife, Heather – she’s identified as a co-plaintiff who, as a result of the crash, has been “permanently deprived in the future of the services, comfort, society, companionship and consortium of her spouse” – are seeking damages in excess of $75,000.

The Wolfs’ West Palm Beach-based attorney, Boris Zhadanovskiy, did not respond to a message left at his office.

However, Holy Cross responded to the lawsuit last month, denying most of Wolf’s claims and arguing that his actions and negligence contributed to his crash-related injuries.

Specifically, the college denies that Diggins was “looking down or away from the oncoming traffic” or “was on his cellphone at the time of the accident,” and that he was required to yield to Wolf’s truck.

The college also alleges that Wolf wasn’t wearing a seatbelt and that his truck wasn’t properly maintained when the crash occurred, making him at least partially – if not mostly – responsible for his injuries, the nature and extent of which were “misrepresented” by the plaintiffs.

In addition, the college blames the crash on an “act of God,” apparently referring to the glare of the morning sun, which was still low in the southeastern sky and might’ve made it difficult for Diggins to see the traffic signal or the oncoming truck.

At the time of the accident, traffic at the often-busy intersection was regulated by a signal in which a green arrow enabled southbound motorists on Indian River Boulevard to turn left onto the Barber Bridge.

When the arrow would change to a solid green light, however, southbound motorists were required to yield to oncoming traffic before turning left.

The police report stated that Diggins failed to yield before proceeding across two lanes of oncoming traffic, and he was cited for the infraction.

In fact, the report stated that Diggins uttered several spontaneous remarks before being taken to the hospital, including: “Please let me have had a green light. Did I have a green arrow? God, please let me have had a green arrow.”

Wolf’s federal lawsuit was the second filed against Holy Cross and Diggins in the wake of the tragic accident.

Margaret O’Leary, one of the team members riding in the ill-fated van, filed her lawsuit in Connecticut Superior Court in April. She was among the rowers hospitalized after suffering serious injuries in the crash.

She voluntarily dismissed her suit in May.