by Elizabeth Darling
Two former Gunn High School students who were burned in an explosion on the campus quad in 1994 will receive cash settlements from the school district and two of those responsible for the tragic prank. Catherine Meyer and Eleanor Lin, both now college students, will receive $100,000 and $50,000 respectively from the Palo Alto school district along with Robby Roberts and Brendan Wheatley. The two former Gunn students masterminded the explosion in an unused concrete drinking fountain on June 8, 1994.
The youths packed 65 pounds of explosives into the concrete structure and set it off while numerous students sat or stood nearby. Eighteen students were injured, Meyer and Lin the most seriously. Meyer suffered severe second- and third-degree burns to her back, arms and legs and will have lasting scars. Lin also received severe burns but her injuries will not be as long-term.
Roberts and Wheatley, along with classmate David Chin, pleaded no contest July 6, 1994 to charges of setting off the explosion. The three defendants were all ordered to complete a long list of requirements, from community service to monetary restitution. They were also ordered to speak at assemblies at their former high school about the bombing.
But the three youths also faced a civil lawsuit filed in July 1994 by attorneys representing those students injured in the explosion. A claim was also filed against the school district.
The parties reached an agreement on Dec. 19 in an arbitration proceeding. The school board approved the district's participation in the settlement late last month in a closed session meeting. Citing the Brown Act, related to closed session proceedings, school board president Julie Jerome would not say how much of the settlement the district would be paying.
Attorneys for Meyer and Lin, Roberts, Wheatley and the school district participated in the six-hour session, as well as Jerome and other school district officials. Chin did not participate in the settlement and was not a party to the suit since he does not have any assets.
Meyer will receive more compensation since her injuries were more severe.
"I think the settlement is fair," said Jeff Rickard, an attorney with the Alexander Law Firm in San Jose, who represented Meyer and Lin. "I had two clients that desired to bring closure. They had a great desire to put this behind them. It certainly won't erase the memories. There is no amount of money you can give them that can take it all away."
In spite of the district's participation in the settlement, Jerome would not concede the district's responsibility for the incident.
"The district did have the place very well staffed that day. Students were warned about pranks. It was not anticipated. It's the three students' responsibility and not the district's responsibility," Jerome said.
Meyer is now a student at UC San Diego, and Lin attends UC Santa Cruz.
Roberts is now a student at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Chin attends DePauw University in Indiana, and Wheatley is still working in the area to finish paying fines related to the Gunn incident. "It certainly won't erase the memories. There is no amount of money you can give them that can take it all away."
Back up to the Table of Contents Page