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From Conn. prison, driver sues parents of his victim

Blames death on lack of bike helmet

Matthew Kenney (above) was struck and killed by driver David Weaving in 2007. Weaving blames Kenney’s parents because they allowed Matthew to ride his bike without a helmet. Matthew Kenney (above) was struck and killed by driver David Weaving in 2007. Weaving blames Kenney’s parents because they allowed Matthew to ride his bike without a helmet. (Associated Press/ Courtesy Joanne Kenney)
By Dave Collins
Associated Press / November 15, 2010

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HARTFORD — A driver who is serving a manslaughter sentence for striking and killing a 14-year-old boy is suing the victim’s parents, blaming them for their son’s death because they allowed him to ride his bike in the street without a helmet.

Matthew Kenney’s parents, Stephen and Joanne, sued 48-year-old David Weaving shortly after he was sentenced last year to 10 years in prison, accusing him in Waterbury Superior Court of negligence and seeking more than $15,000 in damages.

Weaving, who has a history of drunken driving convictions, responded months later with a handwritten countersuit accusing the Kenneys of “contributory negligence.’’ He’s also seeking more than $15,000 in damages, saying he has endured “great mental and emotional pain and suffering,’’ wrongful conviction and imprisonment, and the loss of his “capacity to carry on in life’s activities.’’

“It drags the pain on,’’ said Joanne Kenney, a stay-at-home mother with two other children, ages 2 and 13. “It’s a constant reminder.’’

Prisoners nationwide file tens of thousands of court actions a year on allegations ranging from wrongful convictions to poor jail conditions to civil rights violations, according to federal judiciary data. But lawyers and victim advocates say it is not often that criminals sue victims and their families.

Prosecutors say Weaving was recklessly passing another car at about 83 miles per hour in a 45-mile-per-hour zone when his car hit Matthew Kenney on Route 69 in the Waterbury suburb of Prospect on April 27, 2007. A jury convicted him in December 2008 of manslaughter and other crimes. Weaving has five drunken driving arrests since the late 1990s, four of which resulted in convictions. He was not charged with drunken driving in the Kenney case.

The Kenneys say Weaving’s license should have been permanently revoked in 1999 under state law because of the multiple convictions. They are seeking permission from the state claims commissioner to sue the Department of Motor Vehicles and its commissioner, Robert Ward.

The department has acknowledged it made a mistake in not revoking Weaving’s license and said it has taken steps to prevent similar problems.

Matthew, a well-liked seventh-grader who played several sports, suffered severe head and internal injuries, broken bones, and lacerations. He was declared brain dead the next day.

Weaving insists he was driving the speed limit and wasn’t acting recklessly when he passed another car in a legal passing zone and Matthew suddenly appeared in the road around dusk in wet, foggy conditions. He alleges Matthew and some friends were jumping their bikes off a ramp at the end of a friend’s driveway and landing in the middle of the two-lane road.

In his lawsuit, Weaving wrote that had the Kenneys “complied with the responsibilities of a parent and guardian and the laws of this state and not allowed their son to ride his bicycle without a helmet and to play out in the middle of Rt. 69 . . . this incident and Matthew’s death would not have happened.’’

Joanne Kenney, 42, calls Weaving’s claims unbelievable. While she and her husband are paying an undisclosed amount of attorney’s fees, Weaving is filing his claims for free because he is considered indigent; a judge has waived $500 in fees.

“I just think it’s crazy that they have the ability to do this behind bars,’’ she said. “I think inmates have too many rights. They’re the ones who committed the crimes, not us. And we’re the ones who suffer more.’’

The federal government and several states, not including Connecticut, have laws and regulations requiring inmates to pay lawsuit fees as part of efforts to deter frivolous and malicious lawsuits.

Matthew was a popular student at Long River Middle School, a few miles from the accident site. A memorial Facebook page in his honor has more than 600 members.