Ithaca, N.Y. — The family of a Cornell graduate who died in a 2012 gorge trail accident has dropped the portion of its lawsuit filed against the university, according to court documents filed on Monday.
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Alan Andrew Young-Bryant, 32, was visiting Ithaca when he was killed on Dec. 5, 2012, in an 80-foot drop on the trail path. (Young-Bryant got his master’s degree from Cornell in 2007 and his Ph.D. from the university in 2011.)
In October 2014, Young-Bryant’s family filed a lawsuit that listed both Ithaca and Cornell as defendants. Ithaca, the lawsuit claimed, had been negligent in not maintaining the gorge trail and “carelessly” failed to provide adequate lighting and warning signs.
Earlier this week, Young-Bryant’s family said it has agreed to reduce the scope of its lawsuit to no longer include the university.
“It’s been clarified that the city accepts and agrees and admits that they were in control and required to maintain that area of the walkway,” said Bill Friedlander, who is representing the family, in an interview on Thursday.
“When the case started, it wasn’t clear to us who was responsible for maintaining the section of the walkway.”
The motions in court also make this point.
The decision to drop the claim against Cornell comes under the condition that Ithaca agrees “that the Cornell defendants have no ownership, maintenance or control over that area,” according to records filed in Tompkins County Court.
After news of the lawsuit first emerged, City Attorney Ari Lavine said in a statement: “Young-Bryant’s death is an undeniable tragedy. The City looks forward to a thorough determination as to the cause of this tragedy.”
The incident and investigation
The following comes from prior Ithaca Voice reporting:
The night of Dec. 4, 2012, Young-Bryant and his girlfriend enjoyed a bottle of champagne and wine before going to dinner.
After dinner, they went to the Chapter House, where they were joined around 8:45 p.m. by several Cornell professors and graduate students. Young-Bryant appeared “highly intoxicated,” according to witnesses.
As the girlfriend was getting ready to leave shortly after midnight, she turned around to notice that Young-Bryant had disappeared.
A woman walking her dog found his body the next morning. She called police.
“The subject was laying across the concrete trail/retaining wall, with his legs hanging over the edge,” an officer writes in police reports. “The subject appeared to have severe face and head trauma.”
Police would later determine that Young-Bryant suffered a tear in his aorta and died of internal bleeding.
Shortly after Young-Bryant’s death, police began trying to reconstruct how he died.
The documents filed in public court records do not show that the officers reached a clear conclusion.
However, police officers do note in their reports that “the subject may have fallen from a north side trail above the creek that runs east-west parallel to the creek from University Ave.”
“At the creek scene some disturbed looking loose stones and leaves tend to show the victim fell from above,” one officer writes in a police report.
Two Ithaca police officers and a sergeant went to to the elevated walking path. There, they found a metal hand rail that had been broken — the top part of the rail was bent down about 12 inches “from some previous incident,” police say.
Furthermore, the officers note, “the sidewalk has some holes in it there and the earth is eroded on the side of the sidewalk …”
“The damaged sidewalk has been marked previously with white paint outlining holes in it. Both the railing and sidewalk are in need of immediate repair as they pose a severe safety issue. It appears the subject may have fallen in that area where the railing and sidewalk are damaged.”