SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — A Hutterite colony in South Dakota accused of fostering behavior that led to the death of a teenage girl in a motor vehicle accident has settled a lawsuit brought by the girl’s family.
The settlement by the Deerfield Hutterian Brethren Colony near Ipswich comes right before an Aug. 14 trial. The colony was accused of negligence and recklessness by ignoring unlicensed youths driving on public roadways outside the colony, while allowing access to alcohol.
Those actions were factors in the death of Vannah Decker, 15. She died in February 2014 after riding in a colony-owned vehicle driven by Janos Stahl, 17. Stahl was charged with second-degree manslaughter and served a year in jail, the Argus Leader reported .
Decker was from the Starland Hutterian Brethren Colony in Minnesota. She had been visiting family on the Plainview Colony about four miles from the Deerfield Colony. Court records show Stahl drank alcohol before and after meeting that night with Decker, whom he had been communicating with online for several months.
Stahl rolled into a ditch after accelerating to nearly 100 mph, ejecting Decker from the vehicle. He testified that he looked for her, but walked home without reporting the accident when he couldn’t find her.
Colony members testified in the civil suit that it’s common for unlicensed boys to teach themselves to drive and to take colony vehicles on public roads.
Hutterites are an community that lives on colonies throughout the prairies of northwestern North America. The agricultural community of German descent is a denomination of Anabaptists who, like the Amish, trace their roots back to the Radical Reformation of the 16th century.
The terms of the settlement were not disclosed.
“Although my client continues to mourn the tragic and senseless loss of his 15-year-old daughter, he is relieved that the defendants have been held accountable through the civil justice system,” said Scott Abdallah, an attorney for Vannah’s father. “Vannah’s death was preventable. The Decker family hopes this case will help bring needed changes so that the public is protected from unlicensed children driving on the public roadways of South Dakota.”
A phone message left by the newspaper seeking comment from the colony’s attorney was not immediately returned.
Information from: Argus Leader, http://www.argusleader.com