HOUSTON (AP) – Families of seven students killed or injured when a massive stack of bonfire logs collapsed at Texas A&M have reached a $4.25 million partial settlement of a lawsuit, attorneys said Friday.

The settlement resolves claims against 25 of 35 student leaders who oversaw construction of the 59-foot-high bonfire, which tumbled down five years ago this week, killing 12 and injuring 27.

“Justice will not be served until full damages are assessed against all of the defendants,” said Darrell Keith, an attorney for four victims’ families.

The lawsuit is scheduled for trial next year against three dozen other defendants, including Texas A&M University, former school president Ray Bowen, the Texas Aggie Bonfire Committee, H.B. Zachry Co. and Zachry Construction Corp.

The Zachry firms provided cranes and crane operators to help erect the logs for the bonfire, which was built annually and burned on the eve of A&M’s game with its archrival, the University of Texas.

The pile of more than 5,000 logs came down Nov. 18, 1999, while it was being built under the supervision of student leaders known as “red pots.”

“It has been going on so long and most of these kids were out or getting out of school,” said attorney Chuck Aris, who represents four student leaders who settled. “Everybody thought it was a tragedy and they wanted to put it behind them.”

Aris said the student leaders did not admit any responsibility in the settlement, which was first reported Friday by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He said some “red pots” were among those killed in the collapse and the money being paid out for the settlement comes from homeowner’s insurance policies the families had.

Most student leaders who did not settle lacked insurance, Aris said.

“We appreciate and interpret the settlement from the defendant ‘red pots’ as a gesture, whether they want to admit it or not, that they accept a fair amount of responsibility for the bonfire collapse,” Keith said. “The evidence is powerful against them.”

The 90-year bonfire tradition has been on hold since the deadly collapse. Texas A&M President Robert Gates has said there will be no discussion of future bonfires until the lawsuits are resolved.

Texas A&M is a defendant even though the school has been dismissed from six federal suits based on sovereign immunity, said Tom Kelley, a spokesman for the Texas attorney general’s office.

Sovereign immunity is the state’s constitutional right prohibiting lawsuits or liability. The attorney general is representing the school and all state employees named in the suit.

The school and its administrators have made immunity claims in the state case but no decisions have been made.


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