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Kraft Group sued over deaths after tailgating

Alex Latteo (left) and Debra Davis were killed in a car accident in Wrentham on July 26, 2008.

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Alex Latteo (left) and Debra Davis were killed in a car accident in Wrentham on July 26, 2008.

DEDHAM — An attorney for the Kraft Group, which owns Gillette Stadium and the New England Patriots, argued in court Tuesday that a deadly car crash following a 2008 concert at the stadium is not the company’s fault and that the ­deceased driver and passenger and ­another friend who survived had trespassed and illegally brought alcohol to the tailgating festivities.

“They brought their own supply of alcohol,” said Douglas Fox, attorney for the Kraft Group, during a hearing in Norfolk County Superior Court to determine whether the lawsuit should go to trial. “. . . They had no right to be where they were.”

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Attorney Joseph Borsellino — who is representing the family of one of the victims, Debra Davis of Milton, and Nina Houlihan of Norton, who survived the crash — said Robert and Jonathan Kraft are connected to the lawsuit as managers of the Kraft Group and share blame for the accident.

But Fox said the Kraft Group is a limited liability company and therefore the Kraft family should not be considered a part of the lawsuit.

Judge Patrick Brady is ­expected to make a ruling ­before the end of the year on whether the civil case should proceed.

The family of Davis, who was riding in the front passenger’s seat and was instantly killed, is seeking at least $2.5 million from the Kraft Group. Houlihan, who was riding in the back seat and survived, is seeking at least $250,000. She was 20 at the time of the accident and is now 24. Davis was also 20.

No lawsuit has been brought by the family of Alexa Latteo, the 19-year-old driver from Mansfield who was killed.

Authorities said Latteo had a .24 blood alcohol level when she veered off Route 1 just a mile from the stadium in ­Foxborough and hit a tree in Wrentham on July 26, 2008.

Fox said the three women did not have tickets to the New England Country Music Festival and were therefore trespassing in the parking lot.

The attorney is comparing the case to a recent one in which the state’s highest court found the parents of a teenage girl not responsible for a crash following a party that she threw while they were away. In that case, alcohol was brought to the party by the guests.

Brady said he did not see a correlation between the cases.

After the hearing, Borsellino said, “We’ve been trying to make that point for the life of the case, that this is not a garden variety social host case. This is a straight negligence, gross negligence, willfully wanton case.

“If he [Brady] finds that way, then precedent will be set that property owners who sell space to hold tailgating parties or know that they’re likely to ­occur are going to have to start taking precautions, rather than rely on the government to clean up the mess.”

Borsellino argued at the hearing that the Kraft Group had a duty to monitor the parking lot and check IDs to prevent the type of drinking that left hundreds intoxicated as they tailgated outside the popular event. Many of the revelers in the parking lot did not have tickets to the show.

By 6 p.m., as the tailgating grew out of control with fights, public urination, and vomiting, security spread through the parking lot and ordered tailgaters without tickets to leave. The sudden enforcement of a standing policy cast hundreds of inebriated revelers onto Route 1, Borsellino said.

He said that the Kraft Group exercised “willful and wanton negligence” by not taking steps to crack down on the underage drinking in the stadium parking lot, despite concerns raised at an October 2007 selectmen’s meeting.

Borsellino said it was “foreseeable that someone was going to get killed.”

MaryAnn Davis, the mother of Debra, said, “We’re taking respon­sibility for a share of what happened, but they should, too.”

She said she was unaware that her daughter was going to an all-day event where alcohol would be plentiful. She also said she was under the assumption that her daughter had a ticket to the concert.

Despite those assumptions, Davis said, the management should have taken precautions to prevent underage drinking and should have verified that everyone entering had a ticket.

Houlihan attended the hearing and said prior to it that she thinks about the accident every day. She described the scene in the parking lot as mayhem and said there was no attempt by anyone affiliated with the management group to crack down on drinking.

Brian Ballou can be reached at bballou@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeBallou.
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