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Families of teens killed in Northway crash file lawsuit

CLIFTON PARK -- The families of two high school students killed in a crash on the Northway filed a lawsuit against those they believe are responsible.
Deanna Rivers’ and Chris Stewart’s families filed the suit independently in State Supreme Court Thursday morning.

“We kind of meandered through the first year,” said Brian Rivers, Deanna’s father. “It's taking us over a year to even process a lot of the things we kind of knew, but didn't want to accept earlier on. It's been a long road. We focused this year on accountability of some of the other parties that may not have been brought up that led up to this accident that never should've happened.”

Named in the suit are Dennis Drue, the driver of the car that hit the vehicle the teens were in, and his mother, who owned the vehicle. They are also suing the former owners of Koto Japanese Steak House and two employees.

The suit alleges the bartender and waiter served Drue two “double” gin and tonics and one gin and tonic even though witnesses claim he was intoxicated. A man who identified himself as a manager at Koto said new owners took over the business about a year ago. Attorneys for the family say the bartender who served Drue is still an employee at the restaurant.

Drue admitted in criminal court last year he was also under the influence of marijuana when he then got into his car and hit the car the teens were traveling in.  Drue pleaded guilty to a 58-count indictment and was sentenced to five to 15 years in state prison.

The lawsuit does not seek a specific monetary amount. The families are hoping the lawsuit will reveal the circumstances that allowed Drue to leave the restaurant. The Rivers family said most of the money will go to the Deanna Rivers Foundation, which was set up to help those looking to become teachers. The Stewart’s said they are planning to start a foundation and are also working with the Shenendehowa Central School District.

The suit is expected to take 18 months to get to a jury. The families said after the civil case, they will begin preparing to attend Drue’s parole hearings. His earliest release date is in 2018.

Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, several people posted comments criticizing the family’s decision to seek a monetary award, which Brian Rivers staunchly defended.

“Any of the naysayers out there, looking at this in a negative fashion, I just want to say ‘shame on you.’ We didn’t ask to be here. We didn’t ask to be put into the position we’re in. We didn’t ask for this lifestyle,” said Rivers. “We’re two hard working American families just trying to take care of our children and do the best we can for them and unfortunately we were put into this position so I just want people to think about that before they pass judgment on as to why the lawsuit, why now. It’s about accountability and validation and that’s the bottom line.”
 
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