A federal appeals court says New Jersey and local government officials are not responsible for the death of a woman who was swept away by floodwaters during Hurricane Irene.
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in a Tuesday ruling that Celena Sylvestri was driving on a Salem County road in Pilesgrove Township by her own choice during the 2011 hurricane, although she was aware of a travel ban imposed by the county that directed all non-emergency vehicles to stay off the roads and that New Jersey was under a state of emergency.
The court decision affirmed a federal district court ruling that government agencies were not at fault in Sylvestri’s death.
Sylvestri’s mother, Kathryn Van Orden, argued in her lawsuit that her daughter drowned because officials had opened some floodgates at Woodstown in Salem County, an emergency measure they take during major rainstorms.
But the appeals court noted in its Tuesday ruling that Woodstown officials had no reason to believe the Pilesgrove road would flood because they had taken the same action ahead of a previous major storm and the downstream road didn’t flood.
Defendants in the lawsuit included Pilesgrove, Woodstown, the county and county sheriff, the state and state police, and the epartment of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Dam Safety.