A wrongful-death lawsuit filed by the family of Harry Dunn, a 19-year-old British man fatally struck in a hit-and-run involving the wife of an American diplomat, will be allowed to proceed in Virginia, a judge has ruled.
Dunn was riding his motorcycle outside a military facility in Central England in August 2019 when he collided with Anne Sacoolas, who has confessed to driving on the wrong side of the road at the time. Her husband, a U.S. diplomat, was stationed on the base, RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire, near the crash site.
Dunn later died at an Oxford hospital.
Just days later, Sacoolas fled to the United States with her family, claiming that, as the wife of an American diplomat, she had full immunity protection in the case. The United States in January 2020 declined to extradite Sacoolas to face criminal charges on causing death by dangerous driving, prompting Dunn’s parents to file a civil claim for damages against the 42-year-old woman.
Sacoolas sought to have the proceedings dismissed, arguing that it would be more convenient for the wrongful death lawsuit to be overseen in the United Kingdom. Judge T.S. Ellis on Tuesday however, denied her request on the grounds that Sacoolas has repeatedly refused to return to the scene of the crime overseas, CNN reported.
“The convenience of the parties and the ends of justice are best served by retaining jurisdiction in this case in the Eastern District of Virginia,” Ellis said, noting that there was “an obvious inconsistency” in Sacoolas’ argument.
Earlier this month, her lawyer, John McGavin revealed Sacoolas was “employed by an intelligence agency in the U.S.” when she fatally struck Dunn, which was “especially a factor” in her quick exit from the U.K.
During a previous court appearance, McGavin said he could not “completely candidly” explain why the Sacoolas’ family fled, adding, “I know the answer, but I cannot disclose it.” He also said that his client feared she would not get a fair trial due to “media attention.”
According to court papers filed in London, Sacoolas’ employment with the United States could call into question her alleged immunity. In the mid-1990s, the U.S. and U.K. governments made a secret agreement in the that American intelligence officers posted to RAF Croughton would not be able to claim diplomatic immunity for any criminal incidents that occur outside the U.S. base.
crash in Britain with Anne Sacoolas, speaks at a news conference as she is joined by husband Bruce Charles (left) on, Oct. 14, 2019, in New York. (Craig Ruttle/)
The deal did not however, extend to the children and spouses of those stationed at the base, who were able to retain immunity in such instances.
“We are pleased and relieved at the Court’s decision,” Dunn’s mother, Charlotte Dunn, told CNN in a statement. “We only took this step as a last resort following the denial of justice in the extradition case on strong legal advice from our legal team.”