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Mother of Dakota Wright, 4, sues in girl's fatal Hanover hit-and-run

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch
Four-year-old Dakota Wright was fatally struck by a hit-and-run van outside her Hanover home on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016.
(Photo courtesy of GoFundMe.com)

The mother of 4-year-old Dakota Wright, who was killed in 2016 by a van in a hit-and-run, has sued the van's driver and owner, as well as one of her own adult daughters.

The lawsuit, filed April 6 in York County Court, names as defendants Tony Shower Jr., who was driving the van when it struck and killed Dakota; Stephen Gambal III, who loaned the van to Shower despite the fact that they had been doing drugs together; and Natalie Meckley, Dakota's adult stepsister.

Shower, 35, was sentenced in January to six to 15 years in state prison for killing Dakota. Jurors found him guilty Nov. 22 of accidents involving death or personal injury/hit and run and driving under the influence of a controlled substance. He remains in the state prison in Houtzdale, Clearfield County.

Meckley testified at Shower's trial that she'd just driven home with Dakota, and they were getting out of Meckley's car to go inside. She said she heard a loud noise, then saw her little sister lying in the middle of the road.

"When I realized it was her, I ran into my house and started screaming for my mom and stepdad," Meckley told jurors. "My stepdad ran out of the house and picked her up off the road (and did CPR)."

The lawsuit states that Meckley failed to properly watch out for Dakota and allowed her to run into the middle of the street, where she was struck and killed.

More:Prison for driver who fatally ran over 4-year-old Hanover girl and fled scene

More:Prosecutor lists 4-year-old Dakota Wright's numerous injuries

Ginger Wright, the mother of both Dakota and Meckley, cites in her lawsuit counts of negligence and wrongful death, as well as survival action.

She is seeking in excess of $150,000 each from Shower and Gambal, and in excess of $100,000 from Meckley.

Tony Shower Jr.

The background: Dakota, who lived in the 200 block of Princess Street in Hanover, had arrived home with Meckley at 7:09 p.m. Nov. 22, 2016, when she was fatally struck by a  van in the road.

The van, which was going about 22 mph, never slowed before hitting her and didn't slow afterward, according to prosecutors.

Trial evidence included the fact that DNA from blond hairs embedded in the headlight assembly of a white utility van matched the maternal DNA lineage of Dakota's family and that the zipper pull on her My Little Pony jacket had scratched the van's bumper.

The van was owned by Shower's friend, Gambal, who testified at trial that he and Shower had been driving around all day prior to the hit-and-run, smoking crack cocaine. Shower also did heroin, Gambal told jurors.

Gambal testified that about 7 p.m., he waited in the parking lot of a local bar while Shower drove Gambal's van to go buy more drugs. When Shower returned about 20 minutes later, he told Gambal to take over driving again, according to Gambal.

Pulled over twice: Officers from two different police departments separately pulled over the van, since 911 had broadcast a description of it. The first officers ended up letting the van go because Gambal appeared sober and, in the dark, officers were unable to see any damage related to the hit-and-run, according to testimony.

Dakota Wright, 4, was fatally struck by a hit-and-run utility van outside her Hanover home on Nov. 22, 2016.
(Photo courtesy of Ginger Wright and Facebook)

The second time the van was pulled over, Gambal was alone in the van. By that time, he had dropped off Shower and had smoked more crack cocaine, he testified.

West Manheim Township Police arrested Gambal on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol and impounded the van. When it was examined in a lighted garage, the blond hairs and damage were found, trial testimony revealed.

A neighbor of Dakota's said he was sure the driver was the only person in the van and gave a description of the driver that sounded nothing like Gambal but was a good description of Shower.

— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.

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