Nancy Huntzinger wins wrongful death lawsuit

By Thadeus Greenson

After mere moments of deliberation, Humboldt County Superior Court Judge John T. Feeney awarded a $3.6 million wrongful death judgment to Nancy Huntzinger more than 19 years after the death of her son, Curtis Huntzinger.

"Clearly, no monetary judgment can compensate you for the loss of your son," Feeney said in issuing the judgment Friday and offering Nancy Huntzinger condolences for her loss.
An Arcata High School student, Curtis Huntzinger went missing from the streets of Blue Lake in May 1990, after last being seen at his sister's house. Days before, Curtis Huntzinger reportedly told his mother that Stephen Hash, a family acquaintance, had molested him.

More than 18 years later, Hash admitted to the crime, confessing to Humboldt County District Attorney's Office investigators at a Sebastopol Starbucks. Hash told the investigators that, on the night of May 18, 1990, during a sudden quarrel at his home, he struck Curtis Huntzinger in the head with a dumbbell, crushing his skull and killing him.

In December of last year, Hash helped authorities recover Curtis Huntzinger's body, which he had buried in a wooded area just outside Blue Lake. He later pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to serve 11 years in prison.

According to court documents, Hash was served with papers in Nancy Huntzinger's civil suit in Folsom State Prison. But, according to Huntzinger's attorney, Michael Crowley, Hash has not responded to any of the papers, prompting a default which was entered against Hash in July, essentially meaning he is not contesting the claim.

Friday, Nancy Huntzinger appeared before the court, testifying that Curtis Huntzinger's death deprived her of the love and companionship of her son.

"Curtis like to make jokes. He liked to make faces. He just lived to be funny," she said. "... He gave me comfort, companionship and humor all rolled up into one. It was beautiful. He was beautiful."

Nancy Huntzinger also showed the court some of the only artifacts remaining from Curtis' life: A handprint of his preserved in clay, a needlepoint sewn by 8-year-old Curtis and the metal ring found still encircling Curtis' finger when his body was found, engulfed in roots, late last year. She testified that not a day goes by without her missing Curtis, and that she never got to know the man he was to become.

"I miss that a lot -- what he would have grown up to be, how many children he would have had, what he would have looked like as an adult," she said. "I don't know any of that, and I never will."

In making the case for damages, Crowley told the court that Nancy Huntzinger spent more than 18 years not knowing what fate had befallen her son, not knowing whether he was alive or dead. Crowley estimated damages at $200,000 for each of those years, for a total of $3.6 million and attorney's fees. That estimate, Crowley told the court, is conservative.
"That doesn't even include the rest of Mrs. Huntzinger's natural life, where she will not have him beside her," he told the court.

Crowley said Monday that he intends to record a certified copy of the judgment some time this week with the Humboldt County Recorder's Office, which he said is a first step in attempting to collect the judgment from Hash. Crowley said the judgment will presumably be in place against Hash until it's paid in full.

"To the extent that he has assets, we're going to try to collect that money from him," Crowley said. "To our knowledge, he has a piece of property -- a house -- and that's the initial focus of our efforts."

reprinted from the Times-Standard Online