Hearing to Determine Whether 1968 Drowning Lawsuit Will Proceed

By William Kates
Associated Press
August 18, 2004

Syracuse, NY - A judge will hold a fact-finding hearing to determine whether a $150 million lawsuit can proceed against a Catholic priest accused of negligence in the 1968 drowning death of a young boy, the family's attorney said Wednesday.

No date has been set for the hearing before state Supreme Court Justice Robert Julian, said attorney Frank Policelli.

The lawsuit was filed in June against the Rev. James Quinn and the Syracuse Catholic Diocese by the victim's mother, Anna Marie Piacentino.

Piacentino's 12-year-old son, Albert, drowned while on a church picnic for altar boys from St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church in Utica. The family believes new evidence shows Quinn, then the assistant pastor at St. Agnes, was supposed to be supervising the outing but that he was not present when Albert drowned as he swam with the other boys.

It was not until last year that Piacentino said she learned that Quinn might not have been present when her son died. Quinn has denied any wrongdoing.

Quinn also is accused in another $150 million lawsuit of repeatedly sexually abusing John Zumpano in the 1960s while he was a student at St. Agnes.

In November, a state judge dismissed Zumpano's lawsuit, saying too many years had passed based on the law. However, the judge said Zumpano's case had merit and encouraged Policelli to appeal to the state Appellate Court Division, which has authority to overturn the law. The appeal is pending.

It was while investigating Zumpano's case that Policelli said he uncovered information implicating Quinn in Albert Piacentino's death. The information came from Donald Zumpano, John's brother.

According to Donald Zumpano's affidavit, the boys were engaged in horseplay when they realized Piacentino was missing. Donald Zumpano said he went to look for Quinn but could not find him. When he called St. Agnes' rectory for help, he found Quinn there instead of at the camp.

At a court hearing in July, Policelli and lawyers for Quinn and the diocese argued over whether the statute of limitations should be lifted to allow the Piacentino's lawsuit to proceed. Julian reserved his decision at the time but sent a letter to attorneys last week saying he would hold a fact-finding hearing.

Policelli said he asked Julian to hold the hearing before a jury. If the judge decides the statute of limitations does not apply, the jury can decide the case without having to recall all the witnesses to testify again, he said.


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