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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Gates: Bonfire will not burn in Fall 2003

With litigation pending and his predecessor’s past delays in the balance, University President Robert M. Gates announced Wednesday that Aggie Bonfire will not burn this fall.
In a letter addressed to faculty and students, Gates explained that he will postpone a decision on the future of Bonfire until lawsuits arising from the 1999 Aggie Bonfire Collapse, which killed 12 Aggies and injured 27 others, are resolved. This is the first time in his seven months as president that Gates had made an official pronouncement on the fate of the University’s 90-year tradition.
“I have concluded that any announcement, decision or change in the status quo regarding the future of Bonfire would be inappropriate while litigation is still on-going,” Gates said.
Trial dates have yet to be set for the six federal and seven state lawsuits filed by families of the Aggies killed in the collapse on Nov. 18, 1999.
University Relations Deputy Director Lane Stephenson said he could not speculate on when the litigation would be complete.
Steve DeWolf, an attorney representing four of the victims’ families in court, said lawsuits in the state courts would take years to resolve. DeWolf is representing the Breen, Davis, Kimmell and Scanlon families.
“I am currently involved in a federal case that should have some clarity within a year,”�DeWolf said. “But all of the state court cases in the Brazos County courts will take two years at least.”
DeWolf said the University has refused to discuss settlement with the families or their attorneys.
“We have tried multiple times to get A&M or some of its insurers to sit down and resolve this, and they just seem disinterested,” he said. “That is hard for me to understand.”
DeWolf said the University has said that it will require one offer from all plaintiffs before it will agree to discuss a settlement.
DeWolf said litigation proceedings should not prevent Bonfire from returning this year.
“I don’t know where litigation comes into this decision,” he said. “In my view, because Bonfire is such a revered tradition, it should go forward as long as it can be done in a safe way–which it obviously can.”
Vice President for Student Affairs J. Malon Southerland said he agreed with Gates’ decision.
“I support President Gates’ decision 100 percent,” he said.
Included in Gates’ announcement was the decision to declare Nov. 18 an official Bonfire Remembrance Day “in honor of those who lost their lives and were injured.” Gates also said the Bonfire Memorial, which will be dedicated Nov. 18, 2004, will “be exempted from all budget cuts from this date through its completion.”
Southerland said next year’s Remembrance Day will be officially recognized, although classes will not be cancelled.
“Everyone appreciated the form last year’s unofficial remembrance day took,” Southerland said. “This year’s will probably bear some resemblance to that.”

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