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Slain South Portland girl's family files wrongful death lawsuit against accused killer

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Slain South Portland girl's family files wrongful death lawsuit against accused killer

PORTLAND — An attorney for the step-sister of Zoe Sarnacki, the 18-year-old woman who was murdered May 26, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Sarnacki's accused killer.

Chad Gurney, 27, was indicted by a Cumberland County grand jury June 4 in the murder of Sarnacki. An indictment is a finding that enough evidence exists to prosecute, not a finding of guilt.

According to police, Gurney allegedly killed the teenager in his Cumberland Avenue apartment and then set the place on fire. Firefighters found Sarnacki's body, and Gurney was located a few hours later in Old Orchard Beach and arrested on charges of murder and arson.

Attorney Dan Lilley filed the civil lawsuit June 3 in Cumberland County Superior Court on behalf of Kristin Kosnow, who is a step-sister of Sarnacki.

The lawsuit asks the court to freeze Gurney's assets. Those assets, according to the filing, include as much as $1.5 million in settlement money Gurney received as a result of a motor vehicle accident in Alabama in 2005. Gurney was traveling with the Liberty College lacrosse team, for which he played, when the team van was involved in a highway accident with a tractor trailer. Gurney suffered a severed leg and spinal fractures, according to reports at the time.

The lawsuit suggests "that the defendant may attempt to direct available funds for use in his defense of the crimes of which he is accused, or alternatively, may attempt to divert the funds to a family member or other assignee in an attempt to avoid satisfaction of a wrongful death judgement against him."

Lilley said this week that he expects there will be a hearing soon on the request to put a hold on Gurney's assets.  He added that he is negotiating with attorney Peter Detroy, who represents Gurney in the civil matter.

"This could settle early in the process or be long and drawn out," Lilley said.

According to lawsuit documents, Gurney receives $1,000 per month in Social Security disability benefits and his settlement from the accident is delivered in structured payments.

Zoe Sarnacki was a resident of South Portland and attended Deering High School until last year, when she dropped out. Friends have described her relationship with Gurney as a "friendly acquaintance."

Gurney remains in Cumberland County Jail and has been ordered to undergo psychological evaluation by the court.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net