County could be sued for $2 million in plane crash
Rockland — A representative for one of the three occupants of the Cessna 172 single-engine plane that crashed Nov. 16 at Knox County Regional Airport in Owls Head has filed notice of a $2 million claim against the county.
Jeffrey Spear of Nobleboro filed the notice of claim for the estate of Marcelo Rugini, 24, a student at the University of Maine, and a resident of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, for injuries he suffered in the crash resulting in his death. The claim cites negligence of Knox County and its employees, agents or servants.
Also killed in the crash were University of Maine alumnus and pilot William B.J. Hannigan of South Portland and UMaine student and occupant David Cheney, 22, of Beverly, Mass. All three were members of Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity at the university.
The claim is not a lawsuit but an intent to sue, which must be filed within 180 days of the accident.
The aircraft in which Rugini was a passenger collided on the runway with a vehicle driven by Stephen Turner, 62, an employee of Penobscot Island Air, according to the document filed with the Knox County commission.
Attorney Steven D. Silin of Berman & Simmons, P.A., of Lewiston, sent the claim Dec. 20 to Roger A. Moody, chairman of the Knox County Commission, and a copy to Andrew Hart, administrator for Knox County.
The crash that caused Rugini’s injuries and death was “proximately caused by the negligence of County of Knox and its employees included, but was not limited to: failure to adopt and enforce adequate safety rules, regulations and guidelines for the operation, maintenance, or use of the airport facilities and the safety of vehicles and/or aircraft being operated at the airport," the claim states.
The claim also cited failure of the airport “to adequately train, advise, or warn persons using its airport facilities regarding proper and safe methods of use and operation.”
The claim cited the county’s “failure to properly construct, use, design and manage airport runways and related facilities,” and its “failure to properly construct, use, and design and manage its airport runways and related facilities; and failure to properly construct, operate and maintain airport buildings, grounds, and appurtenances to provide for safe passage of aircraft and vehicles being operated on or near runways.”
The claim reiterated that “as a result of the negligent acts and omissions of Knox County,” Rugini suffered severe injuries resulting in his death after a period of conscious pain and suffering, for which the estate and the beneficiaries are entitled to recover damages, according to statute.
The damages include, but are not limited to, pecuniary injuries, including the loss of earnings, loss of consortium, funeral and medical expenses, and conscious pain and suffering of Rugini prior to his death, according to the claim.
Attorney Peter Marchesi of the Waterville law firm of Wheeler and Arey, PA, representing Knox County in defense of the claim, said it has been “difficult to piece together all of the facts because access to everyone is limited.”
“It appears the airport itself had nothing to do with the accident, but there were a lot of other factors, including pilot error,” he said.
“It appears that Mr. Turner, the man who was driving the truck on the runway, has been advised by an attorney not to grant any interviews,” Marchesi said. “Any attempts to interview him have come up empty.”
“At this point, it appears that in order for there to be a collision between an aircraft and a vehicle, the collision had to have occurred at ground level,” Marchesi said. “Physical evidence suggests human error played on the part of the pilot.”
“The aircraft had 4,000 feet of runway in front of it after the collision with the truck,” he said.
Courier Publications reporter George Chappell can be reached at 207-594-4401, ext. 117, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.