Family of Kent-Meridian teen killed while ‘car surfing’ sues Kent School District

Parents of Lupo Benson seek damages for wrongful death

Jimmy Benson at a community gathering at French Field in April 2015 for his son Lupo Benson. FILE PHOTO

Jimmy Benson at a community gathering at French Field in April 2015 for his son Lupo Benson. FILE PHOTO

The parents and estate of the Kent-Meridian High teen killed in a “car surfing” accident three years ago filed a wrongful death lawsuit last week against the Kent School District seeking damages because of alleged negligence by the district.

Lupo Benson, 18, died from injuries he suffered after falling off the hood of a fellow classmate’s vehicle as it sped through the Kent-Meridian parking lot on March 31, 2015, and made a sharp left turn that caused Benson to slide off the SUV and the back of his head hit the pavement hard, according to the Kent Police report. Benson, a senior, died the next day at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

Jimmy and Christine Benson, the parents of Lupo Benson, filed the suit March 26 in King County Superior Court. They seek damages for injuries suffered by Lupo Benson as well as his loss of life and his loss of a future earning capacity. They also seek damages for emotional distress they suffered, medical expenses, funeral expenses and attorney fees. KIRO-TV first reported the suit earlier this week.

Any damage amount would be proved at a trial, according to the suit.

The suit claims the school district had a policy forbidding “reckless driving” in the school parking lot and even assigned multiple staff and district personnel to monitor student traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian, in what’s known as the Annex Lot. But on the day of the “car surfing,” no school district personnel were present.

“School District officials, in particular, Kent-Meridian administrative staff, were made aware prior to the end of school on March 31, 2015, that the staff member assigned to monitor the Annex Lot was unable to supervise that afternoon,” according to the suit. “Despite this, School District officials took no steps to find a replacement supervisor to monitor the Annex Lot and ensure student safety.”

The suit claims the district was negligent because it allowed unsafe activity to be commonplace in the Annex Lot; neglected to provide adult supervision after school in the lot until all student vehicles left the area safely; and breaching its duty to keep students safe while at school.

Melissa Laramie, spokeswoman for the Kent School District, said on Monday that she would have no comment because the district has not yet been served with the suit.

Tyler Reber, the classmate, was driving a SUV through the school parking lot as Benson gripped the back edge of the hood near the windshield, with his chest on the hood and his feet toward the front of the vehicle, according to charging papers against Reber.

Reber backed the SUV out of a parking spot and then appeared to rapidly accelerate through the parking lot at about 15-20 mph and then made a sharp left turn. As Reber made the turn, Benson slid off the hood, his feet appeared to land first, but the momentum of his upper body continued toward the ground and the back of Benson’s head hit the pavement hard.

Kent Police initially investigated Reber for vehicular homicide after interviewing witnesses and reviewing security camera footage of the incident. But King County prosecutors said after consultation with the victim’s family and the circumstances of the crime, they decided to go for a reckless driving charge, a gross misdemeanor, as opposed to a felony charge.

Reber pleaded guilty to reckless driving and a judge sentenced Reber in November 2015 to a suspended sentence of 364 days for his role in the death of Benson. Reber received 24 months probation and 1oo hours of community service as part of the sentence. Reber, of Black Diamond, did not serve any jail time. He had to complete an aggressive driving school and not drive for one year.

In the charging papers against Reber, prosecutors said that he drove a motor vehicle with willful and wanton disregard for the safety of persons and property. Reber has no criminal history or driving violations. Prosecutors said it was the first “car surfing” case filed in King County.

Jimmy and Christine Benson are represented by attorneys Richard Adler and Melissa Carter of Seattle-based Adler Giersch, which specializes in personal injury law.

Richard Adler represented the family of Zackery Lystedt in a suit against the Tahoma School District in Maple Valley after the then-16 year old was permanently disabled in 2006 following multiple concussions while playing middle school football. The district reached a $14.6 million settlement with the family in 2009, according to the Seattle Times. Numerous states later passed the Lystedt Law to implement rules about how concussions in youth sports are handled and treated.

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