The father of Courtney Griffin, the woman killed two years ago by hit-and-run driver Gabrielle Nestande — an incident that prompted changes to state law — has filed a lawsuit against Nestande and the bar that served her drinks the evening of the incident.
The suit, filed late Thursday in Travis County Probate Court, alleges that Clive Bar servers knew Nestande was impaired but continued serving her and that Nestande “was operating her vehicle negligently” when she hit Griffin.
Griffin’s mother, Laurie, filed a similar lawsuit 10 weeks ago. The new lawsuit also names William Marchbanks, a friend of Nestande’s, as a defendant. He drove her from the bar to his house, where her car was parked.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for expenses related to Griffin’s funeral and burial, as well as compensation for “past and future mental anguish.”
“It’s not about the money,” said Bart Griffin’s attorney, Jeff Edwards. “It’s holding Gabrielle Nestande accountable for the death of his beautiful daughter.”
Nestande’s attorney, Brett Payne, said it was too early to address the accusations in the suit. “This is a tragic situation from all perspectives,” he said.
The lawsuit was filed almost two years to the day Griffin was killed when Nestande’s BMW veered into the 30-year-old nanny as she walked along Exposition Boulevard, in Tarrytown, and then drove away. The then-23-year-old state legislative aide said she had looked down at her phone and didn’t know what she hit.
Testimony at Nestande’s trial suggested she’d been drinking heavily at two bars before the accident, and prosecutors claimed she was impaired. But jurors said the evidence did not prove that.
Originally charged with intoxication manslaughter and failure to stop and render aid, she was convicted of criminally negligent homicide after a trial in February.
Her sentence of 180 days in jail and 10 years’ probation drew widespread criticism as being too light. “It doesn’t accurately reflect the damage done,” Edwards said.
Outrage over the incident prompted legislators to rewrite the state’s hit-and-run laws during the current session to allow more severe punishment for drivers who flee the scene of a deadly accident.
One of the bills, introduced by Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, changed the crime of failure to stop and render aid from a lower level third-degree felony to a more serious second-degree felony, raising the infraction to the same level of severity as intoxication manslaughter. Gov. Rick Perry signed it into law a week ago.
A second bill, by Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, would make it easier to prosecute the same crime by changing the current law’s wording to allow prosecution of a person who left the scene of an accident that was “reasonably likely to result in injury or death of a person.” Current law demands that prosecutors show the driver knew the accident resulted in death or serious injury.
Passed by the Legislature earlier this week, the bill is awaiting Perry’s signature.