Mother of 4-year-old fatal hit-and-run victim Dakota Wright settles lawsuit
The mother of 4-year-old Dakota Wright, who was killed in 2016 by a hit-and-run van, has settled her lawsuit against the van's driver, its owner, her insurance company and one of her adult daughters.
Filed April 6 in York County Court, the lawsuit named 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.
According to lawsuit documents filed Wednesday, presiding Common Pleas Judge Clyde W. Vetter on Oct. 5 approved the proposed settlement.
It awards Dakota's parents, Ginger and Josh Wright, about $57,500 and awards the Philadelphia-area law firm that represented them — Lowenthal & Abrams P.C. — about $32,000, according to the settlement agreement.
Ginger Wright filed the lawsuit as executrix of Dakota's estate.
"As we all know, this is a tragic and unfortunate set of circumstances," said plaintiff's attorney Michael Landis. "I think the family was just happy to get the litigation over with and move forward. … Dakota will always be in their hearts, forever."
Shower and Gambal are jointly responsible for paying $15,000 of the settlement amount, according to court documents, while Meckley's underinsured motorist coverage is responsible for paying $25,000 of the total settlement.
Ginger Wright's underinsured motorist coverage is responsible for $50,000 of the settlement, court documents state.
Driver in prison: Shower, 36, 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 criminal 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.
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 in the hours after the hit-and-run because 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.