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Family to sue over fatal shooting

They say officials could've prevented Teddy Niziol's death at Ridgewood High.

By TAMARA LUSH

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 6, 2000


NEW PORT RICHEY -- The family of Teddy Niziol, the Ridgewood High School student who was shot to death in January, has taken the first step toward filing a lawsuit against the Pasco School Board and Sheriff's Office.

J. Meredith Wester, the Tampa lawyer who is representing the Niziol family, sent a letter April 20 to the school board, Sheriff Lee Cannon and the state, declaring the family's intent to sue.

The family says the school and the Sheriff's Office could have prevented the 16-year-old's death, said Wester. Teddy's best friend, Steven Moschella, 17, is charged with manslaughter.

Steven said Teddy handed him a gun as the two sat in Teddy's sport-utility vehicle, according to court records. Steven, who was sitting in the back seat, said he didn't know the gun was loaded when he pulled the trigger; the bullet went through the seat and into Teddy's back.

But the Niziol family says school officials knew Teddy had a gun, and someone should have acted.

"Prior to the shooting, Ridgewood High School and the Pasco County Sheriff's Office had notice that the gun involved in the incident was on school grounds," wrote Wester in the letter.

On the morning of the shooting, a Ridgewood student turned in a note describing Teddy's plans to sell a gun. But the note -- which was released by Pasco County Sheriff Lee Cannon two days after the shooting -- did not say there was a gun on campus. Also, the note contained no last names.

Cannon and Ridgewood High Principal Art O'Donnell said it would have been impossible for school and police officials to prevent the shooting after they read the note.

The Niziol family has moved to Pinellas County since the shooting, and their "whole lives have changed," Wester said.

"More than anything, (Teddy's parents) just want answers," she said. "What was the school doing? What was going on?"

Sheriff's spokesman Jon Powers said Friday that the department does not comment on pending litigation. School Board Chairwoman Marge Whaley said she has not seen the notice to sue, and had no comment.

Under state law, the Niziol family can file the lawsuit six months after filing the notice.

-- Staff writer Tamara Lush is the police reporter in Pasco County. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6245 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6245. Her e-mail address is lush@sptimes.com.

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