The family of late Uniondale High School basketball star Jomani "Jo-Jo" Wright is planning to sue several government entities, alleging the 15-year-old’s death in a January crash resulted from a failure to fix dangerous road conditions in communities of color, court papers say.
An attorney for Wright’s parents and brother sent an April 20 notice of claim to parties including Nassau County, the Town of Hempstead and the state Department of Transportation that demands $500 million in damages.
Allegations in the notice of claim — a precursor to a lawsuit — include that the teenager’s wrongful death resulted from recklessness, negligence and civil rights violations, namely that municipal parties denied Wright equal protection under the U.S. Constitution.
Wright died Jan. 27 after, according to police, the Honda CR-V he was a rear passenger in hit a pole at Maple Avenue and Front Street in Uniondale after a collision with a Toyota.
The sophomore point guard, who had emerged as Nassau’s top public school basketball player as a freshman, was on his way to a local gym for a workout and riding with three other teenagers that included a Uniondale teammate at the time of the 2 p.m. crash.
Wright family attorney Heather Palmore said in an interview that the Uniondale intersection has no traffic control devices, despite an earlier pattern of crashes, and even a prior community petition seeking a traffic light she said she learned of while seeking answers after the deadly wreck.
The notice of claim says the parties failed to remedy dangerous road conditions in minority communities, while that wasn’t the case in mostly white neighborhoods.
It alleges road signs and lighting fixtures have been installed more often and federal, state and local road design guidelines have been implemented in mostly white neighborhoods, which it says isn’t the case in minority neighborhoods.
The notice of claim also alleges funding for roads has been disproportionally allocated "to wealthier Caucasian neighborhoods" while allowing "sub-standard, non-code compliant unsafe roadways in minority neighborhoods."
The parties also failed to install a traffic control device at the location of the crash when codes require one, the claim also states.
The crash remains under investigation, according to Nassau district attorney’s office spokesman Brendan Brosh.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran announced after Wright’s death that she would file legislation to have part of Uniondale Avenue renamed for him.
Palmore said the late teenager’s family will be "declining having the street being renamed for Jo-Jo until the community is made safe."
"While we cannot comment on pending litigation our Department of Public Works has confirmed that this tragic accident did not occur on a County road," Curran spokeswoman Christine Geed said in a statement Wednesday.
She declined to comment on the family’s intention to turn down the renaming of the road.
Greg Blower, a spokesman for Town of Hempstead Supervisor Donald Clavin, who also is named in the claim, said the municipality doesn’t comment on ongoing litigation.
Blower added that "any claim that roadway maintenance and/or improvements performed by the Town of Hempstead differ from community to community on the basis of race or ethnicity is totally without merit."
Joseph Morrissey, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said the agency had no comment on the pending litigation.
On Wednesday, a memorial to the late teenager remained at the scene of the crash. It included a red teddy bear, flowers and a candle with an image of a basketball player in a No. 10 jersey — Jo-Jo’s number — next to a cracked utility pole.
Through their attorney, Wright's family declined to comment Wednesday.
Palmore said the biggest testament to the legacy of the star athlete and honor student "would be to make sure that people in his community and communities of color are made safe."