HAMILTON TOWNSHIP — Dianne Valiante is steadfast in her belief that something sinister happened to her daughter on the night she was struck by a train down the road from her home three years ago. Although the state Medical Examiner’s Office has ruled Tiffany Valiante’s 2015 death a suicide, her family has persistently pursued litigation to overturn that finding.
On Thursday, the third anniversary of Valiante’s death, a third lawsuit was filed by the family’s attorney, Paul R. D’Amato of Egg Harbor Township, alleging violation of the family’s civil rights.
“I want my daughter to live on. This was not her choice to not be here,” Dianne Valiante said. “I’m hoping that someone will start listening. There’s a murderer out there.”
D’Amato said the new suit contends Tiffany’s parents have a right to have the cause of death listed on her death certificate changed from “suicide” to “undetermined” because of “the clear negligent conduct of the state Medical Examiner’s Office” in relying on what they believe are contradictory statements of a student engineer.
He said that conduct is “arbitrary and capricious and thus is a violation of the rights of the parents to substantive due process and procedural due process.”
A spokesman for the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General, which oversees the medical examiner, declined to comment.
Last year, the Valiantes filed a civil suit in an attempt to reopen the death investigation. In March, New Jersey Medical Examiner Andrew Falzon wrote to D’Amato that after he had reviewed the case, the manner and cause of death should not be changed.
D’Amato said if the medical examiner had changed the death certificate earlier this year, he would not be filing the case. He said his office also will rescind the 2017 lawsuit until they can name defendants in the case.
The family recently asked Gov. Phil Murphy to intervene. D’Amato said they have not received a reply to their letter dated May 15.
On Thursday, to mark the anniversary of Tiffany’s death, the family held a vigil at their Mays Landing home, releasing dozens of biodegradable balloons into the air, as they have each year. The gathering this year is a little smaller than in years past, Dianne Valiante said, as friends’ obligations have grown.
The circumstances of Tiffany’s death have led to the family’s relentless pursuit of more answers. Dianne Valiante said she has always questioned why no one showed up to interview her or her family in the days after the crash.
In early August 2015, as she walked the path Tiffany, 18, was said to have taken that night between their home and the train tracks, Dianne stumbled across her daughter’s headband and shoes.
Valiante recalled her distress and her findings’ implications in the death investigation.
“I don’t want it to happen to somebody else,” she said, sobbing. “I’m not stopping until I find out who did it.”
She pointed to a light on the tree that the family installed for Tiffany when she began driving. Valiante said the motion sensor light has not worked since Tiffany died — a sign she is with them.
Tiffany Valiante was a skilled athlete, playing softball and volleyball, and had just graduated from Oakcrest High School when she died. She planned to attend Mercy College and major in criminal justice.
Krystal Summerville said her sister dreamed of becoming a police officer and moving to California.
In the past three years, Summerville has ordered 300 signs, several banners and bracelets that have been distributed around the county. The signs, asking for more information about her sister’s death, have led to some tips, Summerville said.
“The problem is the death certificate is holding this up,” said another sister, Jessica Vallauri.
Summerville said they continue to investigate, finding out through phone records that Tiffany answered a call on her cellphone for 24 seconds sometime between leaving her home and her death. New information discovered recently shows conflicting statements from the student engineer operating the train the night Tiffany died, she said.
But the vigil sends a message of hope, they said.
“We’re trying to turn a tragic day into a remembrance of her life,” Summerville said. “It gets us through the day.”