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A&M board meets to authorize bonfire suit settlement

The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents met today to give A&M President Elsa Murano the authority to settle a lawsuit against university officials in the 1999 bonfire stack collapse that killed 12 people and injured 27 others, according to a statement released by university officials.

The meeting agenda states that Murano is authorized to settle the lawsuit. The board met this morning in a closed session through a telephone conference call.

A settlement hearing is scheduled Tuesday morning in the 361st District Court in Bryan, according to a court clerk.

On Nov. 18, 1999, a 59-foot-tall stack of more than 5,000 logs used in the university’s traditional bonfire collapsed while about 70 people, mostly students, were working on the wedding cake-like structure.

Two Tarrant County families were among those who filed wrongful death lawsuits after the accident. Jacki Self of Arlington sued on behalf of her son, Jerry D. Self, 20; Greg and Jill Powell of Keller filed on behalf of their son, Chad A. Powell, 19.

In May, a Waco appeals court affirmed a district court ruling that allows for individual Texas A&M administrators to be sued for their role in the bonfire, even though they were acting in their official capacity — a legal definition that typically provides for governmental immunity.

Attorneys for Texas A&M have previously argued that college administrators are protected under the state’s constitutional protections for government agencies and its employees.

Following the 1999 bonfire collapse, lawsuits were filed in various courts throughout Texas and later combined into one case in Brazos County.

Relatives of those killed and injured in the bonfire collapse sued the university, contending that A&M officials created a dangerous event and were indifferent to the students’ safety.

The “red pots,” or student leaders of the bonfire construction, and Zachary Construction Corp., which provided cranes and crane operators to build the bonfire, are also being sued; those cases remain pending. Texas A&M and its bonfire advisory committee were granted sovereign immunity from the lawsuits.

The red pots settled a federal lawsuit out of court for about $6 million, which came from the homeowner policies of defendants’’ parents.