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Tech parents file legal appeal to try university president

Parents of Virginia Tech shooting victims aim to release protective legal bar on Charles Steger

The parents of two Virginia Tech students who died in the April 2007 shootings at the school are initiating legal action to take the university’s president, Charles Steger, to court.

The parents filed an appeal Wednesday in the Virginia Supreme Court to release the bar on Steger that protected him from being tried as a separate entity from the state in a wrongful death lawsuit decided against the school in March.

Steger’s attorneys contend that the case is not subject to appeal because the state has already been tried for the wrongful deaths of the two students, Erin Peterson and Julia Pryde. Virginia Tech, an extension of the commonwealth, was found negligent in March of the same charge.

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli filed an appeal Thursday defending the preclusion classifying Steger and the state as a singular entity.

Robert Hall, the attorney representing the parents of the late students, is arguing students enter into a “special relationship” with their respective universities and presidents when they accept attendance and pay tuition. And this special relationship requires that the university play an active role in protecting the safety of its students.

“If you and I were strangers walking down the street and saw a man with a gun in a hold up, I would have no obligation to tell you that this was happening and if something were to happen to you, I would not be at fault — there is no special relationship,” Hall said. This was not the case between Steger and the students and faculty April 16, 2007, Hall said.

Virginia Tech spokesperson Larry Hincker said the court was wrong when it gave the jury instruction that the school, as an extension of the Commonwealth, had such a “special relationship.”

“[The relationship] is not in state code.” Hincker said. “The Commonwealth’s appeal says there is no such code.”

Virginia Tech University Police found two students dead at 7:15 a.m. on the morning of the shootings, according to Hall’s appeal. Police, speculating that the deaths were the result of a domestic dispute, did not alert faculty and students of the incident until more than two hours later. By that time the gunman Seung-Hui Cho murdered 30 additional faculty and students.

Virginia Tech and the University are expected to comply with state legislation adopted the year before the shooting that requires them to “make the campus community aware of crimes, which have occurred and necessitate caution on the part of students and employees, in a timely fashion and in such a way as to aid in the prevention of similar occurrences.”