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CNN AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

Family Blaming, Suing AAA for Daughter's Death

Aired December 19, 2002 - 08:15   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: We want to get now to a rather unusual lawsuit where a family is blaming and suing AAA for their daughter's death. Twenty-seven-year-old Melissa Gosule, murdered back in 1999, about 60 miles outside of Boston. It all happened when her car broke down and while waiting to be towed from the Massachusetts area, a recreation area, a stranger offered her a ride. That man, Michael Gentile, was convicted of killing her.
Now, Melissa's family is suing for wrongful death and negligence. But is the auto club to blame?

We'll hear both sides right now on the story in this case.

First, Melissa's father, Les Gosule, and her mother, Sandy Glaser. Both join us from Boston. So, too, is their attorney, Mike Paris.

Good morning to all three of you.

LES GOSULE, MELISSA GOSULE'S FATHER: Good morning.

SANDY GLASER, MELISSA GOSULE'S MOTHER: Good morning.

MIKE PARIS, ATTORNEY: Good morning.

HEMMER: And I know this must be a terribly difficult topic to talk about. Even July of 1999, I'm sure the pain is still so fresh with both of you.

Mr. Gosule, tell us this, why do you believe at this point AAA is in part responsible for the death of your daughter?

GOSULE: Well, first of all, thanks us, we want to thank you for having us on the show. We really believe that AAA's advertising is deceitful. They talk about the idea that don't trust a stranger, we will be there, we will take you to a safe spot. They didn't do that. They did not live up to their national advertising. And therefore we believe they're responsible.

And we're looking forward for a day in court so we can tell people why, in detail why we believe AAA failed. The gentleman never got out of the car, never offered Melissa a ride, never tried to jump start the car or take the car anywhere. He left her stranded and that violates the, their national advertising.

HEMMER: Now, sir, yes, and I understand the problem you have with the words and how AAA bills itself. But it is also said by AAA that the driver did offer, did offer assistance and even said that he would return maybe in a period of four hour's time. Why is that not enough to exonerate AAA in this case, and the driver involved?

GOSULE: Returning in four hours? It was a quarter of eight. Returning in four hours would be a quarter of 12. Fifteen minutes before midnight? I don't believe that any reasonable person would think that that's, would be leaving someone in a safe spot by leaving them in a parking lot till a quarter of 12 or midnight. That's not their national advertising that we're going to take you to a safe destination.

HEMMER: And Mrs. Glaser, we're going to hear from AAA in a moment here, but it has been said that when the driver showed up he believed that your daughter had already arranged for a different ride and transportation. Is that not the truth?

GLASER: That is not the truth. That is absolutely not the truth. We counted on AAA to come and help Melissa. It didn't happen. It just didn't happen and there was no pre-arranged ride.

HEMMER: Do you believe the driver should and could have known whether or not your daughter was in danger at the time?

GLASER: Absolutely, because the advertisement that AAA gives out to their members is that don't leave your loved ones in the hands of strangers. Well, he was a stranger. So obviously if they're advertising that, then they would have known that she was with a stranger and that could be dangerous.

HEMMER: I want to get to your lawyer quickly here.

GLASER: OK.

HEMMER: Mr. Paris, what do you hope to accomplish with this lawsuit?

PARIS: The family hopes to accomplish that this never happens to another family again. It's very important to the family that this lawsuit remedy some of the problems in AAA's procedures, and that's why they're bringing this lawsuit. And I just want to just get back quickly to a position that I believe AAA has stated publicly on national television before, and if they say it again, I just want the record to be clear that Melissa was not offered a ride on the night of July 11, 1999. That's categorically. That will come out at trial. That was the -- that will be the testimony not only from Melissa's parents, but from the tow truck driver himself.

HEMMER: Thank you, Sir.

Mike Paris, the attorney, Sandy Glaser, Les Gosule with us live this morning in the State of Massachusetts.

A judge, meanwhile, has rejected AAA's request to throw out that lawsuit. Expected to set a trial date next month.

From Washington right now, Mantill Williams, director of public affairs for AAA, is now our guest. His response.

Is it false advertising the way the family lays it out?

MANTILL WILLIAMS, AAA SPOKESMAN: Good morning, Bill.

Bill, first, before I answer your question, I'd like to say that this was a terrible tragedy and our hearts go out to the Gosule family. And the man responsible for this heinous criminal act is behind bars without the chance for parole.

Our advertising is correct. When the tow truck driver arrives on the scene, the option is available for a person to go to an alternative location. It didn't come to that in this case because, number one, she wasn't in an unsafe location. This is the daylight. There were lots of people around, a highly populated area. And number two, the tow truck operator talked to Melissa and her mother and at no time did Melissa or her mother ask for a ride to an alternative location. If they had...

HEMMER: You heard what Mr....

WILLIAMS: ... he would have definitely taken them.

HEMMER: You heard what Mr. Gosule said. He said four hours is not nearly an acceptable time frame, suggesting that was bumping the clock right up to around midnight. Is that acceptable, sir?

WILLIAMS: It's acceptable in terms of deferring a tow to move a vehicle. As I said before, when the tow truck driver arrived, the option was available to go to an alternative location. But, keep in mind, she was in a safe location. She was not stranded. And she also had other options. She could have called her mother to come and pick her up. She could have called police or a taxi.

Yes, this was a terrible, terrible tragedy, but you should never, ever, this should be a reminder to all of us, you should never take a ride from a stranger and Melissa did not have to in this case.

HEMMER: Quickly, sir, the driver, John Cubellis, the man at the center of this storm, apparently had a number of violations reported against him. I think it was nine in the previous week before this incident happened. Do you believe he did behave and act and should be exonerated for the way he showed up that night?

WILLIAMS: Bill, I think those complaints against him may have been related to vehicle damage like scratches or dings. But what we're talking about is something more serious. We're talking about someone being able to have safe choices and Melissa had safe choices. But unfortunately she made the choice to go with a stranger and she didn't have to.

HEMMER: Thank you, sir.

Mantill Williams with AAA from Washington, D.C.

And, again, the Gosule and Glaser family in Boston a short time ago.

Thanks to all.

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