By Conrad Dudderar
An eastern Canadian County family is striving to honor the legacy of their daughter killed by a drunk driver in a “wrong way” crash near Yukon.
Marissa Murrow, 19, died from injuries sustained in a traffic collision shortly after midnight Oct. 3, 2020, on the Kilpatrick Turnpike near S.W. 15th in Yukon.
“We want to keep her memory alive,” said Marissa’s father, Jeff Murrow of Mustang. “Her life counted.
“We’re not trying to give her life meaning, but we’re trying to give her death some kind of meaning.”
Oklahoma City’s Malcolm Douglas Penney, 40, a habitual drunk driving offender, has been convicted of causing Marissa’s death.
Penney was driving a 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander the wrong direction on the turnpike when he struck Marissa’s vehicle. About two hours after the crash, his blood alcohol content tested over twice the legal limit.
Penney had previous drunk driving convictions in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, and Louisiana.
“He should not have been driving without an interlocking device,” Jeff Murrow said. “He should not have been on the road that night.”
On Feb. 1, 2022, Penney was sentenced to serve life in state prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder and leaving the scene of a fatality accident.
“We were very pleased; I can’t say that strongly enough,” Jeff Murrow said. “There were a lot of delays that were frustrating, but at the end of the day, justice was served.
“He received, basically, the maximum sentence that was available.”
When she was killed, Marissa Murrow was a sophomore at the University of Central Oklahoma studying to become a special education teacher. She was a member of the Sigma Kappa sorority.
Marissa was working in a leadership role for UCO’s Homecoming, and after an exhausting week, was driving back to her family home in Mustang to relax.
While at Mustang High School, Marissa was a valedictorian of the 2019 graduating class and participated in cheerleading and various student organizations. She was a member of Mustang’s Chisholm Heights Baptist Church.
Now that the criminal proceedings are over, the Murrow family is focused on a wrongful death lawsuit.
Attorneys for Jeff Murrow and Kristy Murrow filed the civil case on Nov. 20, 2020, in Canadian County District Court against Malcolm Penney, his wife Amanda Penney and The Springs event venue.
The case is on Canadian County District Judge Jack D. McCurdy’s docket, with a trial date set Oct. 3.
Through their suit, the Murrows wanted to find out how Malcolm Penney was permitted to drive after consuming such a large quantity of alcohol. He had attended a wedding earlier that night at The Springs event venue in north Edmond, which is being sued for negligence.
“When we discovered what had happened and how it came to pass, it was clear to us that The Springs – in our opinion – has some major culpability,” Jeff Murrow said. “They are operating in a fashion we believe is unsafe.”
“Many (event) venues are under a tremendous amount of pressure not to crack down on any kind of limitations on alcohol because financial interest would be compromised. People would write bad reviews and people would not come there if they cracked down.”
Event venues like The Springs each have an “exhaustive set of rules” about alcohol use – but are not properly enforcing them, according to Marissa’s father.
“There are some things we feel are happening there that need to change,” he said. “This (lawsuit) is one avenue to try and make sure that this doesn’t happen to someone else.
“We’re hoping that we can make an impact – not just on The Springs, but on the industry. … We want people to celebrate, and we want them to leave responsibility – if they have to get an Uber or have a designated driver.”
Attorneys for The Springs filed a motion for summary judgment in the civil case.
“Plaintiffs are, quite literally, arguing The Springs filled Malcolm Penney with alcohol and physically placed him into a vehicle on an Oklahoma road,” according to the defendant’s motion. “They also argue hazards involving inanimate objects in the roadway factually equate to a case involving a criminally convicted drunk driver leaving a social event.
“The true facts of this case show plaintiffs’ framing of the issues to be completely inaccurate. The law of the case shows plaintiffs simply have no course of recovery against The Springs. Despite the grave nature, this court cannot be governed by sympathy, it must be governed by the rule of law.”
The Springs’ attorneys argue that a commercial wedding venue “cannot be the cause of injuries sustained by a third person as a result of a guest’s voluntary consumption of alcohol and subsequent use of a vehicle.
“It is plain and simple – this case is about Malcolm Penney’s voluntary consumption of alcohol on October 2-3, 2020, his decision to get behind the wheel of a vehicle and the subsequent harm it caused. … Malcolm Penney’s voluntary decision to commit two crimes – larceny of a vehicle and driving it under the influence – further separate any act or omission of The Springs from the chain of causation.”
OTHERS WERE RESPONSIBLE
Marissa Murrow’s father believes other parties besides Malcolm Penney and The Springs share some blame for his daughter’s death.
Amanda Penney was sued for negligence entrustment because she allowed Malcolm to drive her car from the wedding venue knowing he was drunk, according to the lawsuit.
After a mutual settlement, an Edmond restaurant that was sued for over-serving alcohol to Malcolm Penney was recently dismissed as a defendant in the civil action.
The plaintiffs have asked the judge to designate another defendant, a security company for the event venue, as an agent for The Springs.
A chain of errors occurred that led to Marissa’s tragic death, according to Jeff Murrow.
“Every single person who was involved did the wrong thing,” he said. “The security guard did nothing (to stop Malcolm Penney). The wedding attendant sat there and watched him and did nothing.
“The bartender overserved him and even opened a box for him to grab some beers as he walked out the door. Amanda loaned him the car and insisted that he come up and go to the wedding.”
Besides the civil case, the Murrow family is working with state lawmakers to develop legislation that regulates and establishes rules for venues that host special events. An interim study is set in September.