February 16, 2021

The family of a British teenager may pursue a lawsuit in a Virginia court against a U.S. State Department employee whose wrong-way driving allegedly caused the 19-year-old motorcyclist's 2019 death in the United Kingdom, a Virginia federal judge said Tuesday, denying the employee's request that it be transferred to the U.K.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III said since Anne Sacoolas, a Virginia resident who was living in the U.K. with her husband and three kids when she allegedly struck and killed Harry Dunn, refuses to return to the United Kingdom for trial, the case will stay with him.

"Although all parties can enter the United Kingdom, that forum is not fully adequate because defendants have made clear that they will not return to the United Kingdom to participate in the trial or other related civil proceedings if the case is brought there," he said Tuesday.

Charlotte Charles, Dunn's mother, said in a statement Tuesday, "All we want is the truth about what happened to Harry. Any parent who has lost a child can relate to the added pain that comes without having any accountability, and we are ready to move forward and finally get long overdue answers."

Charles, along with Dunn's father, Tim Dunn, and Dunn's twin brother, Niall Dunn, live in the U.K. and filed a lawsuit in September that alleges Sacoolas caused Dunn's death by dangerous driving. Sacoolas has admitted in court records that her negligence caused the teenager's death.

The fatal incident occurred in the U.K. on Aug. 27, 2019, when Sacoolas, driving her Volvo SUV on the wrong side of the road, collided with Dunn on his motorcycle, according to the complaint.

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Sacoolas and her family left the U.K. on Sept. 15, 2019, following a series of discussions over whether she had diplomatic immunity from criminal prosecution over the fatal incident, according to court records.

U.K. representatives sought a waiver of Sacoolas' diplomatic immunity from the U.S. government, which declined and told U.K. officials Sacoolas and her family would depart the United Kingdom.

While Crown Prosecution Service of England and Wales authorized the local police on Dec. 22, 2019, to charge Sacoolas with causing Dunn's death by dangerous driving and submitted an extradition request to the U.S. the following month, the U.S. denied it.

In media coverage of the multinational case, Sacoolas was previously referred to as "the wife of a U.S. diplomat" but earlier this month, her lawyer told the judge she and her husband were both working for a U.S. intelligence agency.

It was public knowledge that her husband, Jonathan Sacoolas, who is also named in the suit, was working for the U.S. government at a Royal Air Force station in Croughton, England, which is known to be used by U.S. intelligence agencies.

In his decision Tuesday, Judge Ellis described Jonathan Sacoolas as "employed by the United States government at the Royal Air Force Croughton United States Air Force Base," and "it appears" Anne Sacoolas "was employed by the United States Department of State."

The distinction is important because a 1995 agreement between U.S. and U.K. governments states that American staff at the base can't claim diplomatic immunity to avoid prosecution for actions outside their duties but their dependents can.

That dependent "loophole" has since been closed following lobbying by the Dunn family, which argued that if Anne Sacoolas was, in fact, a U.S. employee as her lawyer states, she shouldn't have been eligible for diplomatic immunity.

The September lawsuit brought by Dunn's parents and brother in the Eastern District of Virginia — Anne Sacoolas' home forum — alleges negligence, breach of duty and wrongful death.

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Agnieszka Fryszman of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, one of the attorneys representing the Dunn family, said in a statement Tuesday, "We are pleased that the judge agreed that this case should stay here in the United States and move forward. Anne Sacoolas' motion to transfer the case to England was simply unfair. She confirmed she would never return to England to participate in any trial, so we are glad the judge rejected what was in effect an effort to evade accountability for her actions." 

The Dunn family is represented by Agnieszka M. Fryszman, Theodore J. Leopold, Leslie M. Kroeger and Poorad Razavi of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC.

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