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Suit alleges negligence by cement firm

June 29, 2002|by KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

kimy@herald-mail.com

The parents of a 6-year-old Hagerstown boy who fell to his death at the St. Lawrence Cement Inc. quarry in 1999 are seeking $30 million in a suit that alleges the company was negligent in not fencing the area.

In a suit filed May 20 in Washington County Circuit Court, James M. Snyder and Mary Helen Snyder allege that their son, Avery James Snyder, was able to get on quarry property because the company hadn't installed a fence in that area.

The Washington County Sheriff's Department report at the time said the child fell about 100 feet to the bottom of the quarry.

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The Snyders are seeking $10 million in compensatory damages and $20 million in punitive damages.

The suit says Avery James Snyder and a friend were playing at the Snyder home at 20029 Old Forge Road, which abuts the St. Lawrence Cement Co. property, on May 22, 1999. The youngster got on the quarry property "by walking off the rear of the property owned by his parents ... and walking onto the property owned or operated by the defendants," the suit contends.

A Maryland Department of Environment inspection of the quarry following the accident concluded that no follow-up action was warranted.

"The boys most likely entered by foot over a 15-foot high, roughly graded earth and rock berm. The berm has been under construction for about two years and is proceeding as per design and permit," C. Edmon Larrimore, administrator for the MDE mining program, said in the report dated May 27, 1999.

"The suit seeks damages for Avery's wrongful death and asks that St. Lawrence Cement be punished for maintaining a dangerous condition and not preventing minors and other children from entering and playing on the quarry property," the Snyder's attorney, Kevin A. Dunne, wrote in a press release.

"The defendants could have easily prevented injury to Avery James Snyder by erecting a fence to prevent access to their property and quarry at the location of their expanded quarry operations near the Snyder home," the suit alleges.

"Because it's in litigation the company decided not to issue a statement at this time," said Cynthia Oates, spokeswoman for St. Lawrence Cement.

The suit lists St. Lawrence Cement Inc., St. Lawrence Cement Co. L.L.C. and International Cement Corp. as defendants. The address for all three is listed as 1260 Security Road.

St. Lawrence Cement hadn't filed a response to the suit in Washington County Circuit Court as of Friday. No court date has been set.

A 17-year-old male Hagerstown youth died at the quarry previously, and the suit alleges St. Lawrence Cement should have realized their property was a curiosity and a danger to juveniles.

In 1982, Brent Allen Douglas was with a group of friends at the quarry, which was then owned by Lone Star Cement Co., and had feigned several falls before slipping off a ledge and tumbling 102 feet, according to newspaper reports at the time.

The Lone Star Cement Co. subsequently placed a fence and "no trespassing" signs at Shiloh Church Road where Douglas fell. St. Lawrence Cement erected a fence at Old Forge Road where Avery Snyder fell.

A Washington County Planning Commission mandate in 1991 requiring the installation of chain-link fence on top of an 8- to 10-foot berm along the perimeter of the St. Lawrence Cement quarry was overturned by the Washington County Zoning Board of Appeals a year later.

In the 1992 decision, the appeals board said the company would not be required to install a fence and berm immediately along the entire site, but rather in sections as excavation progressed.

James Snyder, of 20029 Old Forge Road, and Mary Helen Snyder, of 13209 Johnnycake Lane, plan to establish a memorial fund to benefit the youth of Washington County, according to the press release from Dunne.

The Snyders did not return a phone call.

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