CLARKSBURG - The driver of a pickup truck who allegedly hit a tent and killed a young South Carolina woman at this summer's All Good Music Festival denies he is liable for her death.
Clay Harlin Lewin, in a 20-page answer filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia, admits that when he arrived at the festival he was directed to park his vehicle at the top of a steep, grass-covered hill above Nicole Miller's tent.
Lewin claims he and other attendees were told where to park at the festival -- "in close proximity" to the tents -- and that he did not have any control over where he parked.
"Numerous attendees," he says, were directed to park their vehicles and place their tents on the hill.
Lewin also admits to trying to maneuver his truck to avoid tents and other vehicles on the hill so he could access the road to leave the festival on July 17. He says there were no parking or security agents to help him that morning.
That's when he says he lost control of his truck, which traveled down the hill, hitting other vehicles and tents, including the tent in which Miller and her friends, Yen Ton and Elizabeth Doran, were staying.
However, he denies he is liable to the plaintiffs, Miller's father Kim, Ton and Doran, and that they are not entitled to any recovery or relief from him.
More specifically, Lewin says they are barred from recovery as a result of Miller's own negligence. He contends he was confronted with a "sudden emergency" and responded with "reasonable care."
Lewin is represented by Daniel L. Fitch of Harrisonburg, Va., law firm Wharton Aldhizer and Weaver PLC.
Each year, since 2003, the for-profit All Good Music Festival is held at Marvin's Mountaintop in Masontown, Preston County. This year's festival was held July 14-17.
According to the plaintiffs' complaints, Miller and her two friends were directed to set up their tent at the bottom of a steep hill at the festival. Meanwhile, Lewin was told to park his pickup at the top of hill.
At some point, his truck slipped down the hill, hitting two other cars before crashing into Miller's tent. Miller and her friends were asleep at the time. All three were trapped.
Lewin's vehicle landed on Miller's chest, making it impossible for her to breathe.
The decedent's friends say although Miller was initially conscious, she "slowly and painfully asphyxiated" due to the weight and compression of the pickup.
Both say they had to "wait helplessly pinned down" as their friend died before their eyes.
Last week, defendant M & M Parking Inc., aka M & M Parking Services Inc., filed its own answer to the plaintiffs' complaints.
The company, which admits to contracting with the festival to provide parking services for the event, denies all liability for injuries and damages, according to its 21-page answer filed Dec. 9 in the federal court.
Like Lewin, Pennsylvania-based M & M contends the decedent herself may have been guilty of negligence, causing and/or contributing to the injuries and damages.
The company says the action described by the plaintiffs was a result of "a cause or causes over which the defendant had no control."
Last month, a company that provided security for the festival asked the federal court to dismiss the lawsuits against it, saying it, too, was not responsible for Miller's death.
Defendant Axis Security Inc., based in Tennessee, admitted to being contracted to provide "general security" at the festival, according to its Nov. 11 answer.
"This defendant denies being retained to ensure the safety of the attendees throughout the festival site with regard to the camping and parking for the festival attendees, specifically, as this defendant was not responsible for determining the location and/or manner in which festival attendees camped or parked vehicles," Axis wrote in its 22-page response.
More specifically, the company denied it instructed Lewin to "park in the manner and/or location in which he did."
A total of three lawsuits have been filed in federal court against the festival, its owners, organizers, hosts, and traffic and security providers in the woman's death.
In addition to Lewin, M & M and Axis, the named defendants include: Walter Productions Inc. d/b/a All Good Presents; president and owner Tim Walther; promoter Junipa Contento; Marvin Huggins, an owner of property in which the festival is held; his company Marvin's Mountaintop LLC; James Carrico, another owner of property in which the festival is held; and security providers Event Staffing Inc. and National Event Services.
Miller's father, Ton and Doran contend the defendants failed to provide a plan for traffic control and failed to comply with West Virginia code regulating campsite density and roadways.
The defendants, they say, should have been aware of "the hazards and foreseeable dangers" presented by having attendees park their vehicles in close proximity to tents on such steep, grass-covered slopes and rugged terrain.
The two friends argue they have suffered "serious" physical and emotional injuries, and have incurred "significant" economic damages.