After a disgruntled employee killed her husband more than two months ago, Terra Fritch wanted retribution. With the shooter dead she could only take money from his estate and pension through a lawsuit. But she quickly found her way blocked.
“Every lawyer I talked to said by the time we get a conviction, and then we get into a civil suit, the money will be gone,” Fritch told San José Spotlight. “That very much angered me, that somebody can come along and choose to completely blow up your life and not have to be accountable for it in any way, shape or form.”
Fritch wants to change that. She’s contacting lawmakers about creating legislation at the state and federal levels that would allow the government to seize the assets of people who commit mass shootings and distribute the liquidated funds to the families of victims. If the assailant has minors who are not financially independent, a portion of the funds would go to them.
Fritch’s husband Alex Ward Fritch died alongside eight other VTA workers on May 26 in a mass shooting at the Guadalupe rail yard in downtown San Jose. The shooting robbed Fritch and other families of their loved ones, but it also upended their financial stability.
“The majority of these husbands were the sole financial provider for their families,” Fritch said. “You have to figure out how to absorb that (financial loss) and continue to move on—that’s just unfathomable.”
Annette Romo told San José Spotlight that her husband Timothy’s wages were the sole source of income for her family. Now Romo faces the prospect of having to get a full time job while she is still trying to retain Timothy’s health insurance through VTA.
“My life’s at a standstill,” Romo said. “It’s very hard and troublesome for me to move on.”
Fritch said she’s in talks with Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez about transforming her idea into a law. Chavez told San José Spotlight that she thinks it’s an important piece of legislation and looks forward to working with Fritch on it.
“I think that Ms. Fritch is right that we need to have the same rigor we have when someone commits a crime that they are not allowed to profit from their crime,” Chavez said. “What she’s saying is no one should benefit from that person’s death, so we don’t have people who are doing an act of terrorism and not understanding that there will be repercussions for their family as well.”
Fritch said Chavez helped her get in touch with other lawmakers, including state Sen. Dave Cortese, who she hopes will help her support an initiative in the California Legislature. Cortese did not respond to a request for comment.
Fritch said she’s also reached out to federal representatives, but does not want to name any of them until she’s received replies from their offices.
Advocates for crime victims embrace Fritch’s idea with enthusiasm.
“What a wonderful idea,” said Margaret Petros, executive director of advocacy nonprofit Mothers Against Murder. She noted that state funds sometimes fall short of helping with restitution for crime victims who need assistance with mental health issues, medical support and wage losses.
“It’s so important for victims to be made financially whole,” Petros added.
In recent years, numerous families have filed lawsuits in the wake of mass shootings. But virtually all of them target third parties with deep pockets and potential liability, such as festival organizers, gun makers or tech companies.
Robert Eglet, a Nevada attorney, helped obtain a settlement from MGM Resorts worth several hundred million dollars for the families of the 58 victims of the 2017 shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas.
Eglet told San José Spotlight that Fritch’s idea is interesting, but in his experience, few—if any—mass shooters have anything of value that can be redistributed to victims.
“You can always sue the estate,” Eglet said. “Just 99 out of 100 times they’re not going to have any assets.”
Fritch and other families of victims are pursuing workers’ compensation claims through VTA and its third-party administrator. According to Fritch, conversations with VTA have improved significantly since the immediate days after the shooting. She said all of the families are excited about her legislative proposal.
“We’re all upset, obviously, and we all very much want something positive to come out of this situation that should never have occurred,” Fritch said.
She noted that her idea isn’t just about making sure victims’ families are made whole—it’s also to serve as a possible deterrent against individuals contemplating senseless murder.
“Hopefully this will make people think twice, especially for a lot of these people who take their own lives and feel like, ‘OK, my family’s not going to suffer (financially),’” Fritch said. “Maybe knowing that’s not the case would make someone think twice.”