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Former PCHS student files lawsuit

Patrick Parkinson Of the Record staff

A Park City High School graduate claims a revered band teacher who died in 2004 repeatedly physically, psychologically and sexually abused her between 1996 until around the time of his death.

The former student, Erin Smith, sued the Park City School District and The Estate of Bill Huhnke in October. She claims district officials should have known Huhnke was "an unfit employee and would create an unreasonable risk of danger to students."

Fearing that Huhnke was grooming another girl for his sexual advances, Smith decided to file the lawsuit, said Smith’s attorney Kenneth Christensen.

"Maybe [Huhnke] was finding a younger girl to start preying on," the attorney said.

But the district had failed to protect Smith, he added.

"We believe that [Huhnke] has had other complaints & that his school record was not clean," Christensen said, adding that he will attempt to obtain records from counseling sessions Huhnke had undergone.

Huhnke, who was 48 when he died, taught music in Park City for about 22 years. Smith was reportedly introduced to the man when she was a fifth-grader at Jeremy Ranch Elementary School.

When she was a ninth-grader in Huhnke’s class, Smith complained to Park City High School Principal Hal Smith about Huhnke’s unwanted advances, Christensen said.

Erin Smith’s court complaint adds, "& Huhnke was removed from Park City High School after [Smith’s] tenth grade year because of complaints from other students of inappropriate behavior by Mr. Huhnke."

During her senior year, while she was an aide at a middle school in the district, the suit claims, "& Mr. Huhnke would force [Smith] into a practice room at the school, fondle her and coerce reciprocation."

The district was negligent in its hiring and supervising of Huhnke, Smith claims, adding, the man should have been fired before he died Feb. 4, 2004.

"While at the middle school, [Smith] was repeatedly subjected to the aggressive and inappropriate sexual advances and abuses by Mr. Huhnke," Smith’s complaint states. The band teacher had been on administrative leave for several months from the district at the time of his death Feb. 4, 2004, said David Chaplin, president of the Park City Board of Education.

But school board members who were looking into allegations against Huhnke had not yet conducted a hearing for the teacher, Chaplin said, adding that as a board member he had previously sat through a similar disciplinary hearing for Huhnke, but charges were never brought against the man.

"I frankly am not aware of any specifics," said Chaplin, about Huhnke’s alleged inappropriate relationship with Smith. "We’ll just have to look at the situation."

He wouldn’t comment about whether other students had complained about sexual advances made by Huhnke in the past.

"[Smith] has been having some psychological problems that affect everything that she does," Christensen said. "[Huhnke] manipulated her."

But when someone in Park City blamed Huhnke’s suspected suicide on Smith coming forward, his client began to feel litigation was in order, Christensen said.

"Someone said that to her at a grocery store," the attorney said.

The district didn’t intentionally cover up crimes Huhnke committed during the two decades he taught elementary, middle school and high school students in Summit County, Christensen said.

"We just feel that the school district was negligent," Christensen said. "Some of the conduct happened at the school."


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