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Sodini estate rejected by University of Pittsburgh

| Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2009

Two victims of the LA Fitness shootings in Collier sued their assailant's estate Tuesday while the sole beneficiary of George Sodini's assets said it does not want the gunman's money.

Ashley Ferragonio, 23, of Cecil and Lisa Fleeher, 27, of Carnegie filed the lawsuits in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court against Sodini's estate and the executor, his brother, Michael Sodini. The paperwork did not include complaints outlining their claims.

"Ultimately, we're trying to get compensation for the victims. We want to freeze and preserve the assets of that estate for the victims," attorney Henry Sneath said.

The estate was valued at about $225,000 when Michael Sodini on Friday filed probate paperwork and his brother's will, which named the University of Pittsburgh — George Sodini's alma mater — as the sole beneficiary.

Pitt said yesterday it "has no interest" in receiving money from the estate and that the money should go to the victims.

"The university community continues to grieve about the tragic loss of lives. And we believe that any available funds should benefit Mr. Sodini's victims and members of their families. Our thoughts and prayers remain with them. We at Pitt will do what we can to assist them in receiving any funds that have been bequeathed to Pitt," university spokesman Robert Hill said in a statement.

George Sodini, 48, of Scott killed three women and injured nine others before killing himself Aug. 4 during a shooting spree in an aerobics class at the LA Fitness in the Great Southern Shopping Center.

The lawsuits filed by Ferragonio and Fleeher are the first.

"Both (Ferragonio) and (Fleeher) are undergoing treatment and physical therapy for gunshot wounds," Sneath said. "One of them has serious internal issues."

Rebecca Bowman, attorney for Sodini's estate, did not return a call for comment. The Sodini family has not spoken publicly since the shootings.

Hill said Pitt is exploring how best to get the victims or their families the money.

"How to do it is still under discussion," Hill said. "This all assumes there is a distribution. We don't know what will happen after all the dust settles."

If Pitt refused to accept whatever money is left after the lawsuits, the money could go back to Sodini's parents or his siblings, said Christine Kornosky, chair of the probate and trust law section of the Allegheny County Bar Association.

"Who it goes to depends on if there's anything left," Kornosky said.

Any money awarded to victims through lawsuits would be paid before beneficiaries or heirs, Kornosky said.

Filing the lawsuits enables Sneath to subpoena records from police, hospitals, the medical examiner's office and businesses such as LA Fitness. Additional defendants could be added later, he said.

"This allows us to start an investigation," he said. "Was there any insurance to cover these causes of action?"

Sneath said he's interested in seeing the results of toxicology tests on Sodini's body and any health history.

"We want to see his medical history, his psychiatric history, to see if anyone was aware of his issues," Sneath said.

Police said Sodini walked into the class, where he knew none of the women, turned off the lights and fired dozens of shots from two guns he pulled out of his gym bag. His online diary described anger over being scorned by women for years.

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