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Towns Face Charges of Negligence in Botched Rescue

CORNISH, Vt. -- The family of the Vermont woman who drowned during a botched rescue attempt by the Cornish Rescue Squad last year has lodged new charges of negligence against the towns of Cornish and Plainfield.

Lawyers for the family of 64-year-old Virginia "Ginny" Yates argue the two towns had a responsibility to oversee the execution of town emergency management plans. Yates was dragged down with the air boat she had been lashed to when rescue workers tried to transport her from the bank of the Connecticut River where she had injured an ankle.

The Cornish Rescue Squad is a private organization that provides emergency response services for the two towns and receives an annual "donation" from each town, according to court documents. The towns and the rescue squad have denied wrongdoing and liability for Yates' death.

In a flurry of recent case activity, the Yates family lawyers have asked to depose Robert Maslan, the 86-year-old emergency management director for the town of Cornish who, according to court records, helped craft the town's emergency plan.

Superior Court Judge Brian Tucker has denied that request pending a structuring conference and hearing on all outstanding motions.

The Yates family first filed its civil lawsuit in July, naming boat manufacturer Maine Yankee Airboats and its chief executive officer Harold Williams as the primary defendants.

Nine of the 10 counts listed in the original 36-page suit attack Maine Yankee and Williams for alleged deficiencies in the airboat's design, marketing misrepresentations and false statements to regulatory agencies. The company and Williams have denied wrongdoing and responsibility for Yates' death.

The family also sued two local mutual aid districts, the towns of Cornish, Plainfield, Charlestown and Springfield, Vt., and the Cornish Rescue Squad. Cornish and Plainfield each face two counts of negligence; the other defendants face one.

In October, the town of Charlestown filed a countersuit against Maine Yankee and Williams, saying Charlestown is "entitled to contributions as well as fault and responsibility to be apportioned against Maine Yankee and Williams."

A lawyer for the Yates family objected to the lawsuit, arguing that the town didn't get permission from the plaintiffs before filing it.

About 10 lawyers are involved in the case and began deposing witnesses this month. More depositions are scheduled for early January. A structuring conference and hearing on outstanding motions have yet to be scheduled, according to a Sullivan County Superior Court clerk. Due to court backlogs, attorneys in the case expect that any trial in the case wouldn't take place before late 2008.

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