Parents of WVU student killed in crosswalk file civil suit

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The parents of Leah Berhanu have sued Michelle Gelada, who struck and killed their daughter in a crosswalk on Patteson Drive on February 1, 2018.

The suit seeks damages for sorrow and mental anguish over the loss of Berhanu. It includes any comfort, guidance or companionship she would have provided over her life. It also seeks damages for the loss of Berhanu’s expected income, services, protection and care she would have provided; pre-death pain and suffering, medical bills and funeral expenses caused by her death are also sought.

Berhanu was a 21-year-old engineering student at WVU at the time of her death. Gelada was also enrolled in WVU at the time.

Samuel Berhanu and Seble Wongel Hailu are Leah Berhanu’s parents. The lawsuit was filed in Monongalia County Circuit Court on March 12 and will be assigned to a judge next week.

Gelada was driving her Ford Explorer east, in the left lane near the intersection with Morrill Way while Berhanu was crossing the street with the walk light, the suit stated. Gelada ignored and accelerated through a red light striking and killing Berhanu, the suit said. It said Gelada’s actions were “intentional, reckless, willful, and malicious.”

According to the lawsuit, Berhanu’s body was thrown about 175 feet away from the point of impact.

The Morgantown Police Department investigated the crash and Gelada was charged with negligent homicide. A jury found her not guilty after a two-day trial in Monongalia County Magistrate Court in November 2018.

Berhanu’s family started a scholarship in her honor, The Leah Berhanu Financial Rescue Scholarship. The scholarship is intended to help promote access for women who want to be engineer, a demographic that makes up just 14 percent of the industry’s work force.

The suit also seeks punitive damages – designed to punish certain behavior and deter similar conduct in the future.

In November, a jury in Monongalia County awarded about $7.6 million to the family of 20-year-old Carli Sears, after a November trial; $1,250,000 of that was punitive.

Sears, an Ole Miss student visiting a friend at WVU, was struck and killed by Alexander Hambrick, who was driving drunk on Jan. 17, 2016. Hambrick pleaded guilty to DUI with death and leaving the scene of an accident involving death – both felonies.

The Dominion Post could not reach Gelada for comment.

Story by William Dean, Dominion Post

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