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Nashua settles wrongful death lawsuit for $2M

Parents of teen swept away in storm drain to receive money from city

Photo courtesy of Nashua Police Department Jacob Goulet, 16, of Nashua

NASHUA – The parents of Jacob Goulet, who was 16 when he died after falling into an open storm drain during a heavy rain in October 2016, are settling their wrongful death suit against the city of Nashua for $2 million, court documents indicate.

Billy Goulet, the administrator of his son’s estate, and his wife, Heidi Goulet, filed the suit in November 2017, alleging the city failed to properly secure the large steel cover over the storm drain into which Jacob Goulet fell while walking through Bicentennial Park the night of Oct. 21, 2016.

Jacob’s body was discovered two days later in the Merrimack River in Tyngsborough, Massachusetts, confirming fears that he was swept down a large interceptor pipe by sewage-contaminated wastewater, family attorney, D. Michael Noonan, said at the time.

The settlement statement includes a confidentiality clause that bars the Goulets and their attorneys from discussing the settlement, and orders them to respond to any questions with phrases such as “no comment” or “the matter has been resolved,” the documents state.

The settlement amount was released by city officials because the city is a public entity, and such information is a matter of public record under the state’s Right-to-Know law.

Staff file photo Flowers and other objects mix with orange caution cones at the makeshift memorial created for Nashua teen Jacob Goulet following his death in 2016. His family settled a lawsuit against the city for $2 million.

The breakdown as to the amount the Goulets will pay their legal counsel, or similar details, are not included in the roughly 2 1/2-page settlement agreement.

The Goulets, by accepting the settlement, also agree to “forever discharge” the city, its insurer and “any other person, partnership or corporation” from any future liability, meaning they cannot file any claims of any nature against anyone or any group in connection with this matter, the agreement states.

The final documents, including the agreement, were finalized earlier this month. Noonan, a partner in Shaheen & Gordon firm in Dover, signed it Nov. 29, while the city’s counsel, Robert C. Dewhirst of Devine, Millimet & Branch in Manchester, signed on Dec. 4.

The circumstances surrounding Jacob Goulet’s death were as bizarre as they were tragic: the teen, described by friends as a quiet, even introverted young man with a wide range of musical interests, was walking home when he fell into the 20-feet-deep drain whose cover had apparently been dislodged by the heavy rain.

Family, friends and city officials filled Bicentennial Park for an informal vigil two days after his death.

Staff photo by Dean Shalhoup A group of mostly teenage friends of Jacob Goulet gathered around to sing songs as a tribute to their music-loving friend, led by a music student playing the ukulele at Wednesday's vigil for the teen.

They arranged mementos, posters, notes and flowers along the iron fence that separates the park from the Nashua River. Among the items was a black sneaker decorated in a “Simpson’s” cartoon theme.

A cross made of tree branches lay between orange caution cones on the silver-colored drain cover, which by then had been secured with metal bars bolted to each corner.

Dewhirst, the lawyer representing the city, argued in his response to the suit that its introductory was “rambling, speculative and argumentative,” and failed “to set forth the factual allegations” as required by the court.

Noonan insisted Jacob Goulet’s death “could have easily been prevented, but for Nashua’s gross negligence and reckless disregard for known dangers.”

The suit also accused city officials of lying about the cover as the police investigation was getting underway, according to the documents.

The allegations accuse the city of knowing the cover wasn’t secure before the rainstorm caused a surge in the wastewater and storm drainage systems, creating the conditions that led to the cover becoming askew.

In the days after the incident, city Emergency Management Director Justin Kates said Public Works officials “have committed to measures designed to minimize the unlikely possibility of a repeat incident.”

He said crews had begun securing all sewer interceptor covers with tamper-proof bolts and locks, while also inspecting manhole covers in sidewalks and crosswalks.

Those that weren’t secure were promptly bolted down, Kates added.

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-1256, dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com, or @Telegraph_DeanS.