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Parents sue Joe Hardy, Nemacolin Woodlands Resort for son's death

| Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, 10:43 a.m.

Self-made millionaire and 84 Lumber founder Joe Hardy knew his teenage daughter hosted underage drinking parties, including one that ended in a fatal vehicle accident, but he did nothing to cut off her access to alcohol, according to a wrongful-death lawsuit filed in Fayette County.

Zack Nelson, 17, died five days after a drunken driver hit a tree at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort near Farmington in September 2011. Police said the then-17-year-old driver, Steven DiCenzo of Uniontown, had a blood-alcohol content of 0.136 percent.

Nelson's parents, Daniel and Tricia Nelson of Chalk Hill, contend in the lawsuit that Hardy's then-15-year-old daughter, Paige, gave whiskey and rum to DiCenzo and other teens who partied that night at her father's house and the resort in Wharton. It was not the first time, they allege, that Paige hosted an underage drinking party with her father's knowledge.

“Based on information and belief, Joseph Hardy III knew and/or likely knew and/or had every reason to know that Paige Hardy had in the past and would likely on that date supply her teenage friends with alcohol that was readily available, unsecured and unguarded at their common home,” the Nelsons' attorneys, Thomas E. Crenney Associates of Pittsburgh, wrote in the lawsuit.

The Nelsons allege Joe Hardy was at home on Sept. 10, 2011, when the teenagers began to arrive for the party. He knew Paige would give them alcohol he kept in the house, the lawsuit alleges, but “did not lift a finger to stop that from happening.”

The teens spent the night drinking at Hardy's residence and at another location at the resort known as the “tree house,” according to the lawsuit. Around 10:30 p.m., they decided to go swimming at a pool on the resort grounds.

With Nelson, Paige and three other teens as passengers, DiCenzo was driving a 2006 Honda Civic on Hardy Boulevard when he lost control on a sharp curve and hit a tree head-on, according to the lawsuit. Paige was in the front seat, directing DiCenzo because he was unfamiliar with the resort, but she failed to warn him of the curve, the Nelsons contend.

Zack Nelson, who was in the back seat, was ejected. He sustained major head trauma and died five days later at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, W.Va.

The Nelsons claim wrongful death and negligence. Named as defendants in the lawsuit are Joseph Hardy III, Paige Hardy, DiCenzo, Nemacolin Woodlands Inc. and Nemacolin.

In naming the resort, the Nelsons contend the 25 mph speed limit at the sharp curve on Hardy Boulevard is too fast for its design. DiCenzo was traveling between 32 mph and 39 mph at the time of the crash, according to the lawsuit.

DiCenzo, who is now 18, was charged as a juvenile with homicide by vehicle, homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence, aggravated assault by vehicle and driving under the influence.

In March, Senior Judge Conrad Capuzzi ordered DiCenzo to spend at least 45 days in an alcohol-treatment facility and to give 12 talks to other teens warning of the dangers of drinking and driving. He faced the loss of his driver's license for up to eight years.

Jeff Nobers, 84 Lumber spokesman, said Hardy has no comment because the matter is in litigation. DiCenzo could not be reached for comment.

On each of the eight counts in the lawsuit, the Nelsons are seeking in excess of $50,000.

Liz Zemba is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or lzemba@tribweb.com.

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