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Nashua faces lawsuit for death of teen who fell down sewer drain

Union Leader Correspondent

December 01. 2017 5:26PM
A makeshift memorial sits along the manhole cover where Jacob Goulet, 16, fell to his death in the fall of 2016. A lawsuit has been filed against the city in connection with his death. (Kimberly Houghton/Union Leader Correspondent file photo)

Jacob Goulet

NASHUA — The father of Jacob Goulet, the teenager who died after being swept into a downtown sewer drain last year, has filed a lawsuit against the city claiming it was negligent and knew the manhole covers were hazardous.

Goulet was 16 when he was walking home on the night of Oct. 21, 2016 in the heavy rain and fell into an uncovered manhole opening at Bicentennial Park.

“Nashua’s gross negligence caused the cover to become dislodged, leaving a gaping dark hole in Jacob’s path,” states the personal injury lawsuit brought against the city by Billy Goulet.

According to the complaint recently filed at Hillsborough County Superior Court, Jacob Goulet fell 20 feet down a shaft and into a siphon chamber where he drowned in wastewater before being discovered two days later in the Merrimack River in Tyngsborough, Mass.

According to Billy Goulet’s attorneys, D. Michael Noonan, Anthony Carr and Steven Gordon of Shaheen and Gordon, P.A., this was not the first time the entire siphon chamber filled with wastewater due to the increased flow of stormwater runoff from heavy rain.

“As had also happened before, the flow became so significant that the air and/or hydraulic pressure was able to unsecure and displace the manhole cover. By the time Jacob approached Bicentennial Park, the cover was dislodged and the wastewater had slightly decreased from surface level as a result,” states the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, Jacob Goulet’s death could have easily been prevented. The lawsuit alleges that Nashua recklessly disregarded the known dangers. 

Det. Matthew Allen of the Nashua Police Department helped investigate the incident and determined that it did not appear that the grates to the interceptor were secured at the time of the incident, adding police also determined that all the screw holes were badly stripped, possibly nonexistent.

The lawsuit indicates that two years earlier, the same cover had lost its bolts and became unsecure under similar circumstances.

“Nashua was on direct notice that without proper remediation and intervention it was only a matter of time until the cover would again become dislodged. Yet, Nashua recklessly disregarded this known hazard when it directed city employee Matthew Cusato to simply insert new, ordinary bolts to temporarily resecure the cover,” states the lawsuit. “The hazard was left unabated. The temporary fix was no fix.”

Following Jacob Goulet’s death, Nashua officials released a statement indicating that the city’s public works department investigated all possible scenarios that resulted in the cover dislodging.

“After review and analysis, and following consultation with third-party experts, the city of Nashua has been unable to determine the exact cause of the interceptor cover being ajar,” said the statement.

However, the civil lawsuit claims that the police department’s investigation had just begun and was still underway. It goes on to claim that Nashua knew the Bicentennial Park pathway posed significant hazards, and spent $30,000 in 2015 to address pedestrian safety in the park.

Additionally, Nashua began implementing a monthly manhole inspection schedule for the interceptor covers, including siphon chamber covers following Jacob Goulet’s death, according to the lawsuit.

“The feasibility of these precautionary interceptor measures is clear — Nashua could have feasibly addressed the unique and significant safety concerns posed by interceptor covers before Jacob’s death, but they recklessly disregarded the hazard,” wrote Goulet’s attorneys.

Billy Goulet is seeking a jury trial and compensatory damages for pain, suffering, death and more.

“All of Nashua is deeply saddened by the tragic loss of one of our city’s youth, Jacob Goulet. Our heartfelt condolences are extended to his family, loved ones and friends,” Mayor Jim Donchess said after the tragedy, adding officials immediately began inspecting every sewer interceptor in the city and placing tamper-proof bolts on covers that were located on sidewalks and crosswalks.

Donchess said earlier that steps will be taken to ensure that something like this never happens again in Nashua.

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