Slain locksmith's parents file claim against Stanislaus County

gstapley@modbee.comMarch 4, 2013 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate textGarth Stapley
    Title: Reporter
    Coverage areas: Regional water, growth, land-use and transportation; civil law, real estate fraud and special projects
    Bio: In his 19 years with The Bee, Garth Stapley has focused on city and county government
    E-mail: gstapley@modbee.com

— The parents of a locksmith gunned down April 12 along with a sheriff's deputy while serving a Modesto eviction have submitted wrongful-death claims to Stanislaus County.

The claims are similar to one filed in September by the locksmith's widow, Irina Engert, who subsequently sued in federal court in January, saying the Sheriff's Department owed her husband better protection.

Glendon Engert, 35, and deputy Bob Paris, 53, were ambushed by a distraught man whose property was sold in foreclosure. The murders touched off a standoff with authorities that ended in an inferno and the suicide of gunman Jim Ferrario, 45.

"It's a shame that Mr. Ferrario created the situation for all of us," County Counsel John Doering said Monday.

Paris and others in the department failed to prepare for high risk despite pointed warnings that Ferrario had military-grade weapons and might be unstable, an independent review concluded. The report could become a central document in Irina Engert's lawsuit, some legal experts have said.

"Mr. Engert never would have proceeded with this locksmith job were it not for the express or implied promise of safety from (the) deputy sheriffs," reads an attachment to the new claims.

Two deputies mentioned

A document names Paris and deputy Mike Glinskas, who was not shot, as responsible parties and says others could be added.

Engert's mother, Ann, said in January that she had consulted an attorney who advised her that a dead man's widow has legal standing to sue, but not his parents.

The San Francisco attorney representing his widow read that story in The Bee, provided a different legal opinion and was hired by Ronnie and Ann Engert. Their claims are considered a precursor to a lawsuit.

The parents' claims come about four months later than allowed by a six-month legal limit for such action. They acknowledge as much in the documents, blame the initial attorney for bad advice and ask for a waiver allowing a late claim.

The claims are listed on today's 9 a.m. meeting agenda for the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors.

A brief says Modesto attorney Gerald Brunn made an "honest mistake" in his opinion regarding the legal standing of an adult's surviving parents and acknowledges "some confusion" in the legal community, saying, "Mr. Brunn is certainly not alone in making this mistake."

Brunn could not be reached Monday for comment.

Based on his assessment, Ann Engert had told The Bee in January, "The state of California does not recognize my loss as legally actionable" and said she supported her daughter-in-law's legal pursuit. She said she had been close to her son, playing online poker with him and chatting on the phone into the wee hours of the morning.

After her consultation with Brunn, she sent him a letter citing puzzlement that laws would not recognize "my loss as his mother" and saying she "would have been happy to have worked with you" and thanking Brunn. The letter is attached to the new complaints.

Support in trade journal

Others believe such parents can sue for wrongful death if the adult who died had no children. Glendon and Irina Engert were childless.

San Francisco attorney Richard Schoenberger, representing all three survivors, cited a 2008 article in a legal trade journal written by two Santa Monica lawyers specializing in wrongful-death cases. They acknowledged disagreement among lawyers but concluded that parents of childless adults can sue, as well as a surviving spouse.

In an email Monday, Ann Engert wrote, "I said before that I supported my daughter-in-law's actions in connection with her lawsuit, and the current development is an extension of that conviction."

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or (209) 578-2390.

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