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Wednesday, November 25, 1992
Orange County Edition
Section: PART A
Page: A-1

Survivors of Crash Given $6.3 Million;


A jury Tuesday awarded nearly $6.3 million to three victims of a spectacular car collision in San Juan Capistrano that killed three teen-agers and injured other teens and adults.

The crash occurred on the night of Feb. 27, 1987, when a carload of teen-agers in a parents' Mercedes, en route to a school dance, crossed the center line of Camino Capistrano a mile north of Junipero Serra Road and crashed into a Mustang heading in the opposite direction.

Three teen-agers in the Mercedes died, and others in both cars were injured. Firefighters had to use hydraulic prying tools to extricate the victims.

On Tuesday, Sandra Donahue-Allison, 42, of Huntington Beach, a passenger in the Mustang and the most seriously injured of those who survived, was awarded more than $5 million. Her daughter, Casey Donahue, 14, was awarded $333,404. And Howard Heyden, 40, of Tustin, who was driving the Mustang, was awarded $871,000.

Christopher Quinton, the 16-year-old driver of his parents' Mercedes and a student at St. Margaret's School in San Juan Capistrano, was killed. Also killed were Larry Klebusits Jr., an 18-year-old senior at Dana Hills High School, and Allison Babcock, a 16-year-old junior at Irvine High School.

After a four-week trial, the jury decided that there had been a civil conspiracy among at least three of the teen-agers in the Mercedes that night to drink, drive and speed. They and their insurance companies must now pay the $6.3-million award.

In a unanimous verdict, the jury found that Quinton bore primary responsibility for the crash. In separate 11-1 findings--permissible in civil cases--jurors also found that two other teens had a lesser responsibility.

The two--Peter McGraw, then 15 and a passenger in the car, and David Dammerell, then 16, who had been drinking with the group earlier in the evening--were found by the jury to have participated in a civil conspiracy to drink, drive and speed that night.

Quinton's estate, McGraw and Dammerell were all insured by Farmers Insurance Co. Their attorneys could not be reached Tuesday.

But Peter McGraw's father, John, expressed dismay at the civil conspiracy portion of the verdict.

"How would you feel if you had beers with a friend and he caused an accident and you're sued as a passenger?" McGraw said. "I think it's a poor precedent to set. Where does one's responsibility end? I think my son was just as much a victim. He had severe injuries himself."

Peter McGraw is now a 21-year-old college student in Washington and has fully recovered from his injuries, his father said.

Dammerell's mother, Christy, also was upset with the verdict which held her son, now 22, partly liable.

"For my child to be held responsible at all is ludicrous," she said. "My feelings have nothing to do with money or insurance companies; it's the effect it has on my son's life. I'm fully aware of (Donahue-Allison's) injuries and I feel she's deserving of the money. But I don't feel my son was in any way responsible. He was a little kid who had to see his best friend's car wrapped around a telephone pole."

Ronald B. Schwartz, who represented the Donahues and Heyden, called the jury's finding "a fair verdict."

Heyden said Tuesday evening that he also felt that the verdict was fair.

"It's something that has been pending for a long time, so it's nice to have it come to some kind of conclusion," he said. "Something like that accident can change someone's life in an instant."

Heyden said the civil conspiracy portion of the verdict should serve as an important lesson for all teen-agers.

"My biggest concern in this whole thing is that it might open some eyes and make people more aware of drinking and driving," he said. "It's such a tragic loss for someone to die that young. This brings into focus the responsibility of each member of the group who are involved in the activity."

Donahue-Allison, who was unable to work for three years, said she has endured 11 operations since the accident, must take daily medication and continues to suffer from severe back pain. She said she was "very satisfied" with the verdict.

"It's been a long 5 1/2 years," she said. "I hope that this is the end of that chapter of my life. I'm glad the trial is over. Some things were very hard to relive. Life has definitely changed.

"But, I'm still here. I'm very fortunate."


Copyright (c) 1992 Times Mirror Company


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