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Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting survivors sue organizers of the event

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Residents attend a vigil for three people who were killed in a shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in Northern California in July.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Five people injured in a shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in July are suing the event’s organizers, saying negligent security contributed to the deadly encounter.

Randall Scarlett, an attorney representing the shooting survivors, filed a lawsuit in Santa Clara County Superior Court on Tuesday morning, four months after the shooting in Northern California that left three dead and more than a dozen injured. The suit says the Gilroy Garlic Festival Assn. and the security company working the event, First Alarm Security and Inc., should have been aware of the risk of a mass shooting, increased patrols and secured the perimeter at the event.

“They had an entire back area [that] had no monitoring whatsoever,” Scarlett said at a news conference. “What’s the price you’re willing to pay to say the risk is too great? Reasonable steps would have avoided this completely.”

The survivors are seeking an unspecified amount in compensation, partly to cover growing medical costs, according to Scarlett.

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Thousands were in attendance at the popular food festival at the “Garlic Capital of the World” in Santa Clara County when a gunman later identified as Santino William Legan opened fire, authorities said. Police initially reported their officers shot Legan dead within minutes, but a coroner’s report revealed the shooter killed himself.

Chief Scot Smithee said the event, founded in 1979, had security checkpoints with metal detectors. But Legan was able to circumvent the festival’s security by entering from a creek area and cutting through a fence.

Scarlett said the area along the fence was not monitored and the barrier itself was an “inadequate, flimsy, low-height, unsupported chain link fence” that was easy to breach, making the wooded area essentially “an open door the length of a football field.”

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The area also was surrounded by cars, box trucks and other obstructions, which provided additional cover for the shooter, according to the lawsuit.

“The security we now see at professional sporting events, music concerts and nearly every other organized large-scale public event that occurs daily has been stepped up to reflect our current threats,” the lawsuit states.

Scarlett cited 352 mass shootings this year and 337 in 2018 as evidence that festival organizers should have recognized the threat.

In an emailed statement, the Gilroy Garlic Festival Assn. said: “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 non-profit 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.”

Security company representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

The famed fest was winding down when gunfire erupted at 5:30 p.m. July 28. Wendy Towner, one of the survivors named in suit, said she saw the shooter near the perimeter bordering Uvas Creek near an inflatable slide surrounded by children.

Towner yelled to divert the gunman’s attention away from the children. At that point, the lawsuit states, Legan shot at her and Francisco Aguilera, another plaintiff.

Towner still seeks medical treatment from the gunshot wound to her leg. Aguilera’s femoral artery was perforated, and he was unconscious when he fell to the ground, the lawsuit states.

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As Towner lay on the ground next to Aguilera, Legan approached. He hovered over their prone bodies, changed gun magazines and asked in a cold and unsympathetic voice whether they were OK, according to the lawsuit.

“Had Wendy Towner uttered a word, it is certain the shooter would have shot them both dead,” the suit states.

Legan went on to shoot plaintiffs Nick McFarland, Justin Bates and Brynn Ota-Matthews, among others, the suit alleges.

At the news conference, Towner said she and her family have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“My son’s scared of being out there,” Towner said of Christmas Hill Park, where the festival is held. “He’s only 3. To be honest with you, I myself have not returned to a big event yet. I haven’t been able to bring myself to it.”


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