Gorge Sued For Wrongful Death

The estate of a man who was shot and killed during the 2002 Summer Jam at the Gorge Amphitheatre near George, Wash., has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against promoters of the concert, claiming they failed to take necessary measures to prevent violence.

The suit was filed in Grant County Superior Court by Seattle lawyer Franklin Shoichet, who represents the estate of Leonard Eugene Smaldino.

It claims Summer Jam’s promoters, which included House Of Blues Concerts, failed to provide increased security they knew was needed at the annual concert that draws as many as 20,000 people and has a history of violence. Nelly, Usher, LL Cool J, and Jermaine Dupri played the July 19th show.

“I’m convinced that the concerns of Grant County law enforcement about the lack of security were legitimate, and that lack of security contributed to Mr. Smaldino’s death,” Shoichet told Pollstar. “I’m basing that on the considered law enforcement judgment of the Grant County Sheriff’s Department, which was making its concerns known before this.”

Smaldino, 47, died at about 1 a.m. on July 20, 2002, after being shot in the chest at a campground next to the Gorge. Grant County detectives said he was probably in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“What we are thinking, based in the information we’ve received, is that this may have involved street-gang members from the Seattle-Tacoma area and that Smaldino probably wasn’t the intended victim,” sheriff’s detective Dave Matney told The Seattle Times.

The suit reportedly seeks unspecified damages from the Gorge and its operator, House of Blues Concerts, along with KUBE-FM and radio station owners Clear Channel Communications, Clear Channel Broadcasting, Ackerly Media Group and The Ackerly Group.

Gorge GM Bill Parsons couldn’t comment on the case pending litigation, but referred Pollstar to a recent statement from House of Blues.

“This random, tragic crime was without precedent at the Gorge and nothing like it has happened since,” the statement said. “Gorge Amphitheatre management and our campground staff are continuing to cooperate fully with law enforcement in their efforts to apprehend the perpetrator of this random and tragic crime.”

In addition to the fatality, officials said there were numerous robberies, a gang rape and a stabbing at the 2002 concert. There were 53 arrests and 31 hospital visits during the 2001 Summer Jam, according to the Times.

The paper added that Grant County officials wrote a letter asking House of Blues to ban Summer Jam. That didn’t happen but a compromise of sorts was made to ban camping at the Gorge and a nearby campsite during the event.

Mitchell Peters