DETROIT — Jury selection is to begin later this month in a federal lawsuit resulting from the 1997 limousine crash that ended the careers of Red Wings defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov and masseur Sergei Mnatsakanov. Konstantinov's wife, Irina, and Mnatsakanov and his wife, Elena, sued an Ohio car dealership in 2004, saying it knew or should have known that the limo was equipped with defective or inaccessible seat belts. The men weren't wearing belts because they were tucked under the seats, the suit said.
Findlay Ford Lincoln Mercury has denied the charges, saying it didn't design or make the Lincoln Town Car — only sent it to a now-defunct Ford-approved Michigan company to be stretched into a limousine by Ford standards. The three-week trial before U.S. District Judge George Steeh could include testimony from at least two dozen witnesses, including Wings owner Mike Ilitch, executive Steve Yzerman, and the limo driver who walked away from the crash, Richard Gnida, who worked for a Belleville firm.
The vehicle hit a tree on Woodward in Birmingham after Gnida fell asleep at the wheel on the way back from a golf outing. Defenseman Slava Fetisov also was in the limo but wasn't seriously injured. The suit is among a number filed as a result of the crash.
Konstantinov suffered severe head injuries requiring ongoing 24-hour medical care. Mnatsakanov was paralyzed from the waist down in the crash, but the dealership has disputed that he suffered significant brain injuries.
The case will be heard by an eight-member jury and tried by attorney Richard Goodman of Detroit for the former Wings and attorney James Feeney of Bloomfield Hills for the dealership, both of whom declined to comment on the case.
Source: Detroit Free Press