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Parents aren't liable for son's death in DUI wreck at Nemacolin

| Monday, July 14, 2014, 11:00 p.m.

The parents of a Fayette County teenager who died in an underage drunken-driving accident at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort cannot be held liable for his death for allegedly failing to supervise him, a judge ordered in a civil lawsuit.

Daniel and Patricia Nelsons' son, Zack, died five days after a teenage driver's vehicle hit a tree at the resort near Farmington on Sept. 10, 2011.

Police said the driver, Steven DiCenzo, then 17, of Uniontown had a blood alcohol content of 0.136 percent. Under Pennsylvania law, a teen driver is considered intoxicated at 0.02 percent.

The Nelsons of Chalk Hill filed a lawsuit against Joseph Hardy, DiCenzo and the Hardy family's resort, Nemacolin Woodlands Inc. and Nemacolin Inc.

Hardy, a self-made millionaire, founded 84 Lumber and the resort. He paid the Nelsons $200,000 in May to settle their claims against him, but the resort and DiCenzo remain defendants in the suit.

In a cross-claim to the Nelsons' lawsuit, resort attorneys Gerard Cipriani and Rebecca Sember Izsak of Pittsburgh placed blame for Nelson's death on his parents. They alleged that the Nelsons were aware their son had previously drank to the point of intoxication, drove while drunk and rode with others who were drinking, but they failed to do anything to deter him.

But President Judge John F. Wagner Jr. on Thursday dismissed the cross claim.

Wagner found that any alleged failure on the Nelsons' part “did not proximately cause the fatal injury” to their son.

“The fatal injuries to the child ... were the result of a vehicle accident, not the decedent's alleged consumption of alcohol or the lack of supervision on the part of his parents,” Wagner said in a six-page opinion and order. “His attendance at the party without adult supervision did not cause his death, nor did the alleged failure of his parents to take away his driving privileges.”

Wagner noted Zack Nelson's parents were not present at the party, so they would not have known he had been drinking that night.

Wagner noted that even if the teen's parents suspected he might drink that night, Nemacolin has failed to show that they “had any opportunity to prevent his drinking at the relevant time.”

Zack Nelson, DiCenzo and other teens who were in the car attended a party the night of the accident hosted by Hardy's then-15-year-old daughter, Paige, according to the Nelsons' suit.

DiCenzo 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 2012, he was ordered 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.

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

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