SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) – Victims of the Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting this past summer sued event organizers Tuesday, claiming inadequate security allowed the mass shooting to occur.
Wendy Towner and four others injured during the July shooting that resulted in the death of three festival attendees said the event organizers failed to properly secure the festival grounds under federal regulations that guide outdoors venues. They filed their lawsuit in Santa Clara County Superior Court.
“Our clients brought this lawsuit for one very simple reason: they want to make sure that promoters of public events like the Gilroy Garlic Festival take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of the attendees,” said Randy Scarlett, attorney representing the victims.
The victims point to numerous security lapses on the part of the Gilroy Garlic Festival Association and First Alarm Security & Patrol, which was hired to provide security for the event. First Alarm is also named as a defendant in the suit.
“It was an absolute failure to provide security,” Scarlett said.
Specifically, the event organizers failed to properly secure the area around Ulvas Creek, giving the shooter an easy access point into the festival grounds, according to the victims. They also claim the chain-link fence put up near the creek was so flimsy and easily breached that it could hardly have been thought sufficient to keep out unwanted parties.
“I was under the impression that things were safe and under control,” said lead plaintiff Wendy Towner during the press conference.
Towner was the first one shot at the festival, after she ran at the shooter when she spotted him coming toward a crowd of festival-goers. Her husband, Francisco Aguilar, was also shot and is a plaintiff in the suit.
Towner said they both endured multiple surgeries, have had to pay exorbitant medical bills and fear they may have to undergo further surgeries as a result of the shooting.
“Francisco and I both spent five weeks in the hospital,” she said.
They and their co-plaintiffs seek unspecified general, special and statutorily allowed damages on claims of negligence and premises liability.
Scarlett said his law firm will pursue a separate lawsuit against the city of Gilroy.
In a statement, the garlic festival organizers said the lawsuit was “not unexpected.”
“The lawsuit filed today, stemming from a horrific act of domestic terrorism, is not unexpected and we will respond through the appropriate legal channels. As a nonprofit organization, we must remain focused on our mission: fundraising for the entire community of Gilroy and the more than 150 charities that rely on us,” the organization said.
The shooting occurred on July 28, when Santino William Legan, 19, cut through the chain-link fence along Ulvas Creek on the final day of the world-famous culinary festival. He fired 39 rounds into the crowd using a semi-automatic rifle, killing three people – Stephen Romero, 6; Keyla Salazar, 13; and Trevor Deon Irby, 25.
Seventeen people were injured in the attack. Legan shot and killed himself after responding officers fired their weapons at him and struck him several times.
Law enforcement believe Legan acted alone, although no motive for the attack has been determined. The FBI has opened a domestic terrorism investigation into the incident based evidence Legan had been “exploring violent ideologies” and had created a list of potential targets that included courthouses, schools, churches and federal buildings.
Searches by law enforcement uncovered Legan had read both right-wing and left-wing extremist literature, including books on white supremacy and Islamic extremism.
Gilroy, a modest-sized California town about 30 miles southeast of San Jose, is widely known for its cultivation of garlic, which it celebrates annually with a three-day festival replete with activities and scores of food vendors. Despite the tragic shooting that ended the 2019 festival, organizers say they are already planning the 41st installment tentatively slated for next summer.
The shooting occurred a little more than a week before mass shootings at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, in which 22 people were killed and 24 people were wounded and another in Dayton, Ohio, hours later when a gunman killed nine and wounded 27.
The spate of mass shootings prompted Pope Francis to condemn attacks on defenseless people. The California Legislature passed a raft of gun control legislation meant to expand the state’s use of gun violence restraining order, regulate the sale of certain gun parts and restrict the sales of semiautomatic rifles.
Semiautomatic rifles were used in all three mass shootings.
The garlic festival shooting also prompted the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to pass a resolution condemning the National Rifle Association as a domestic terror organization.