A jury ruled Wednesday that a school district was negligent — but not responsible — for the alcohol-poisoning deaths of two 11-year-old boys who skipped class and died after drinking half a gallon of vodka.
Jurors awarded no damages to the parents of Justin Benoist and Frankie Nicolai III, who sued the Ronan School District, alleging officials failed to notify them the boys had left school on Feb. 27, 2004.
Frankie, whose blood-alcohol level was 0.50 percent, died of alcohol poisoning, while Justin died of a combination of alcohol poisoning and hypothermia.
The plaintiffs — Justin’s mother, Norma Fox, and Frankie’s parents, Frank Nicolai and Arlene Powell — had sought up to $1.7 million in damages.
The District Court jurors ruled the school district was negligent in not attempting to call Frankie Nicolai’s parents, but that the failure did not lead to the boys’ deaths. Evidence showed that a school attendance clerk tried to call Justin’s mother.
“We’re satisfied,” Frank Nicolai said of the negligence ruling. “Basically, that was what we were looking for.”
Frank Nicolai said he was almost certain he could have found the boys before they consumed the alcohol had he been notified earlier in the day that they were not in school.
“It was a tragedy, and we are deeply saddened by the loss,” Ronan School Superintendent Andy Holmlund said. “I support the jury’s opinion.”