Family of murdered athlete receives whopping settlement

Reuters
·3-min read
Track and field athlete Lauren McCluskey (pictured) running.
The University of Utah announced Thursday that it reached a settlement with the family of murdered track and field athlete Lauren McCluskey (pictured). (Image: University of Utah)

The University of Utah announced Thursday that it reached a $US13.5 million ($AUD 18 million) settlement with the family of murdered track and field athlete Lauren McCluskey and also admitted publicly for the first time that her death could have been prevented.

The announcement comes on the two-year anniversary of McCluskey’s death.

She was shot and killed on the Salt Lake City campus by Melvin Rowland, a man she briefly dated. Rowland killed himself later that night.

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The settlement of two lawsuits calls for Utah to pay $10.5 million to McCluskey’s parents, Matt and Jill, and donate $3 million to the Lauren McCluskey Foundation by March 31, 2021.

“The settlement is important for many reasons,” Jill McCluskey said tearfully at Thursday’s press conference.

“It addresses how Lauren died, but also honours how she lived. All the money from the settlement will go to support the Lauren McCluskey Foundation missions, which include campus safety, animal welfare and amateur athletics.”

On the night of the killing, Jill McCluskey was on the phone with her daughter when the attack occurred. McCluskey’s body was found in a parked car.

University regrets Lauren McCluskey case

Lauren McCluskey, 21, had met Rowland during the summer of 2018 but he told her he was a 28-year-old student named Shawn Fields. When McCluskey found out he was actually a 37-year-old convicted sex offender on parole, she broke off the relationship.

After the breakup, Rowland made threats and extorted and harassed Lauren. In the two weeks prior to the attack, Lauren McCluskey and her mother called campus police more than a dozen times seeking help but the university didn’t check into Rowland’s background.

“The university acknowledges and deeply regrets that it did not handle Lauren’s case as it should have and that, at the time, its employees failed to fully understand and respond appropriately to Lauren’s situation,” Utah president Ruth Watkins said.

“As a result, we failed Lauren and her family.”

Thursday’s acknowledgment that the university erred is different than what was said in the weeks after the death. Watkins said at that time that there was no way university police could have prevented McCluskey’s death.

That refrain - and the university’s insistence about it - led to the McCluskey family filing two separate $56 million wrongful death lawsuits against the school in June 2019. One was filed in federal court and the other in state court.

Utah also announced that it will raise funds to construct an indoor track facility that will be named after Lauren McCluskey. A new violence-prevention centre on campus also will be named in her honour.

The McCluskeys reside in Pullman, Wash., where Jill was born and was a high school track star before deciding to attend college at Utah.

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