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Family of murder victim, AAA reach settlement

| Thursday, Sept. 11, 2003

BOSTON (AP) -- AAA reached a settlement Wednesday with the family of a young woman who was raped and murdered after she accepted a ride with a stranger rather than waiting several hours for a tow truck driver.

Terms of the auto club's settlement were not disclosed.

The agreement was reached on the third day of trial in a lawsuit brought by the family of Melissa Gosule, a 27-year-old elementary school teacher.

Gosule's car broke down on Cape Cod in 1999, and her stepfather contacted AAA. A tow truck driver for AAA arrived and told Gosule he was busy and would not be able to take her or her car back to Boston for three or four hours. Rather than wait, she accepted a ride from a stranger, who raped her and stabbed her to death.

Gosule's family had sought unspecified damages, contending she died because AAA did not provide the kind of emergency service it promises its members. The tow truck driver, John Cubellis, who was a defendant in the lawsuit, also was a party to the settlement, said Harry King, a spokesman for AAA.

The auto club argued that Gosule, who was in a busy parking lot and was able talk to her family using a cell phone, did not appear to be in a dangerous situation.

The settlement came just as testimony was to have begun in Plymouth Superior Court. The parties said in a joint statement that "reliving this tragedy in a lengthy and expensive court proceeding is not in anyone's interest."

The attorney for Gosule's family, Michael Paris, had said in opening statements that he would put AAA's reputation on trial.

"This is about a nightmare that should have been prevented," he said.

The national attention the trial received might have convinced AAA executives to settle even if the auto club thought it could prevail in court, said Paul Martinek, editor of Lawyers Weekly USA.

"No matter how you slice it, this is a (case) where they essentially did not provide a service to this woman, and told her to just cool her heels for four hours and she got murdered," he said. "It doesn't make AAA look good whether you think they should be held liable or not."

The case was watched closely because it was the first time AAA has been sued in the death of a motorist who was killed after seeking assistance from the auto club, legal experts said.

Michael Gentile was convicted of murdering Gosule and is serving a life sentence.

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