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Wrongful death suit by parents of two slain USC students dismissed

February 15, 2013 |  1:36 pm

Yellow tape surrounds the areawhere two USC graduate students were fatally shot last April. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

A Los Angeles judge Friday dismissed a wrongful death lawsuit filed against USC last May by the parents of two graduate students who were slain off-campus.  

Ming Qu and Ying Wu, both 23-year-old electronic engineering students from China, were fatally shot last April while sitting in a parked BMW in the 2700 block of Raymond Avenue, less than a mile from campus. Authorities say the slayings occurred during a botched robbery.

Wanzhi Qu and Xiahong Fei, Qu's parents, and Xuyong Wu and Meinan Yin, Wu's parents, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the university, saying the school misled them when it claimed that it ranks among the safest in the nation.  

DOCUMENT: Read the lawsuit

On Friday, Superior Court Judge Michael Johnson dismissed the case, citing insufficient legal arguments showing a connection between the killings and statements made by the university about the areas surrounding campus.  

“The issue was the judge said, ‘Look, even assuming that the school made a misrepresentation of the safety in that surrounding area, that misrepresentation did not kill the students. What killed them were [the suspects] in the area at the time,’ ” said Alan Burton Newman, the attorney for the parents of Qu and Wu, relating the proceedings.  

Newman said he planned to appeal.

“If it wasn’t for the misrepresentation, the students wouldn’t be there," he said. "And the misrepresentation is still there."

The lawsuit alleges that USC inaccurately claimed on its website that it "is ranked among the safest of U.S. universities and colleges, with one of the most comprehensive, proactive campus and community safety programs in the nation." The suit notes that USC says it provides 24-hour security on campus and in surrounding neighborhoods.

The suit says USC "provided no patrolling" in the neighborhood where the shooting occurred. After the killings, USC persisted with a "clearly misleading" portrayal of safety, reiterating in a letter to the campus community that crime "is low compared to other areas of Los Angeles," according to the lawsuit.

USC attorney Debra Wong Yang said the university is "deeply saddened by this tragic event, which was a random violent act not representative of the safety of USC or the neighborhoods around campus. While we have deep sympathy for the victims' families, this lawsuit is baseless and we will move to have it dismissed."

She also said that the university security net can stretch only so far and that the killings occurred three-quarters of a mile from campus in the third tier of security, where officers respond to incidents but do not patrol.

Bergman said his clients were open to dropping the lawsuit if university officials agreed to change their website statements regarding the areas surrounding campus.

After the killings and the shooting of a robbery suspect by a USC security officer, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck announced that he would add 30 officers to the station that patrols USC's surrounding neighborhoods. Heightened security measures by USC –- more surveillance cameras and late-night visiting rules -– rolled out after a Halloween shooting on campus left four wounded.

The Adams-Normandie neighborhood where the April slayings occurred ranks 27th out of 209 L.A. neighborhoods for violent crime, putting it in the top 20% of most violent areas, according to a Times analysis of crime data.

Bryan Barnes and Javier Bolden, both 20, are awaiting trial on murder charges for the slayings of Qu and Wu. They will possibly face the death penalty, if convicted. Their next court appearance is scheduled for March 13, 2013.


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Photo: Yellow tape surrounds the areawhere two USC graduate students were fatally shot last April. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times