The lawsuit filed nearly a year ago by the family of Andrea Racibozynski, the first-year student murdered by another, Clyde A. Best, in March, 1998 at Knox College will eventually be heard in Knox County Circuit Court.
Originally filed in Cook County, the suit lists nine counts against Knox College and Clyde Best including wrongful death, negligence and willful and wanton misconduct. It asks for ''an amount in excess of $50,000 and for exemplary damages in an amount to be determined according to proof'' on each count as well as legal fees and court costs. A jury trial was demanded.
Christopher Ryan, the Peoria attorney representing Knox College, says that the suit resulted while negotiations were already in progress with the Racibozynski family. After it had been filed in Cook County -- where Ryan says jury awards are generally higher -- Knox College and Ryan hired a Park Ridge law firm, Judge and James, Ltd., to represent them in Chicago and request a Change of Venue to Knox County. That's when the situation got ugly.
The judge, in a rare move, requested a response to the lawsuit while he was still considering the Change of Venue action. According to a report on WMAQ television in Chicago, the college's Cook County attorney filed an affirmative defense response allegedly claiming Andrea ''was guilty and responsible for her own murder.'' Ryan says that ''Knox College and I did not authorize that or know about that before it was filed. It was not prepared in consultation with my office. Knox College immediately requested that it be rescinded. It was rescinded in record time for Cook County -- before the family ever saw it -- and months before the WMAQ story ran. When that story ran, everyone involved knew it had been rescinded.''
Knox was granted the Change of Venue to Knox County late this summer. Knox County Circuit Clerk Kelly Cheesman says the paperwork has not yet arrived here. Ryan says that the suit and the documents are probably still in the bowels of the Cook County Circuit Clerk's office.
At this time, the case is on hold awaiting action in Knox County. The ''First Amended Complaint'' on behalf of Frank and Sharon Racibozynski accuses Knox College of negligence and providing inadequate security. ''Unfortunately, in the years immediately preceding Andrea's death, Knox College was no stranger to violent crime. Aggravated assaults, sex offenses and burglaries were all occurring -- most with increasing frequency -- on the Knox campus. In those years, crime on campus and in the surrounding city of Galesburg was on the rise. Indeed, Knox recognized as much by voluntarily undertaking security measures ostensibly designed and implemented to protect its students from harm and keep its campus safe.''
''Tragically, on the night of Saturday, March 28, 1998, Knox's 'security measures' were facially (and fatally) insufficient. According to Knox, its security plan in place at that time consisted of an escort service, informal campus discussions, pamphlets/posters/ films, emergency telephones, and lighted pathways/ sidewalks. Additionally, Knox represented that it provided a 'professional security service' which patrolled, on foot and by vehicle, the 70-plus acre Knox campus, for what Knox claimed was '24-hours a day on weekends.' However, in sharp contrast to its representations, Knox's so-called 'professional security service' was comprised of one or two inexperienced and untrained Knox employees riding around in golf carts 'patrolling' the 70 plus acre campus without any arrest authority. The 'security' phone on the floor where Andrea died was broken. At the time of Andrea's death, there was no resident assistant or security personnel nearby to respond to her screams for help or come to her aid. Nor were there any security televisions, cameras or monitors present o protect her, or to alert others to her most serious predicament. The bottom line of Knox's so-called 'security' measures was this: for close to an hour, Andrea was left alone to protect herself and to struggle for her life.''
''On March 28, 1998, Knox's 'security measures,' created to protect Andrea Racibozynski, were patently insufficient. Knox's failure to use reasonable care in providing protection to Andrea allowed Best to commit his crime and, as a direct result, Andrea lost her life.''
In the response and motion to strike and dismiss which was filed in August, 2000, the college's attorneys argue that ''no duty is owed by a defendant to protect persons from the criminal conduct of third persons absent a 'special relationship' between the plaintiff and the defendant giving rise to a 'special duty' to protect [the] plaintiff -- if police departments cannot stop all crime, a college is much less able to stop all crime on its campus.'' The attorneys supplemented that filing with a 21-page ''Memorandum of Law'' citing cases that purport to show that no such ''special relationship'' exists.
The case remains on hold until the paperwork arrives in Knox County. In the meantime, convicted murderer Clyde Best continues his quest for a new trial. Both actions could provide some unwanted and adverse publicity for Knox College.