County could be sued for $2 million in plane crash

By George Chappell | Jan 02, 2013

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

Comments (5)
Posted by: Debra L Whittier | Jan 07, 2013 08:57

If it is "difficult to piece together all the facts" then how can the conclusion be drawn that is was pilot error?

Posted by: WAYNE BROWN | Jan 07, 2013 08:47

That was exactly my point, Elizabeth. It's to bad the powers to be at the County level can't use a little common sense and stop wasting the taxpayers money.

Posted by: Elizabeth Kay Gibson | Jan 06, 2013 12:40

Excuse me, but a fence, regardless of how high is not going to keep wild turkeys off the runway or out of any other open area.  Like sea gulls and most other birds except perhaps ostriches, and penguins, turkeys are extremely efficient at using their wings to get where they want to go.  A fence might keep homo sapien turkeys out and off, but it seems to me there are less expensive and more practical ways to do that.

Posted by: WAYNE BROWN | Jan 05, 2013 21:06

I seriously doubt that Mr. Turner or the pilot and passengers of the plane were attempting suicide. It was an unfortunate accident that didn’t have to happen. None of them should have been put in that unsafe situation in the first place. Personal vehicles should not be allowed on runways. There is no need for vehicles to cross the runway to get to other side of the airport. There is already the Ash Point Road and the Dublin Road that gets you to the same location without having to cross the runway. The extra travel time and distance using the existing roads would be minimal. Building a road around the runway would be another waste of tax payer money and you would still have vehicles in close proximity to airplanes landing and taking off. There was a statement made that going across the runway was a standard procedure. Looks to me, like allowing that to happen was more a matter of want than a matter of need. The need for safety should have been the priority not convenience.

I think the attorney for the County is a little premature in saying that it was pilot error. That determination should be left up to National Transportation Safety Board and the FAA.  He is also quoted as saying, “Physical evidence suggests human error played on the part of the pilot.” It is my understanding that some of the physical evidence was removed from the runway prior to the NTSB and FAA arriving at the airport to investigate.

Then we have the million dollars plus high tech fence that is going to improve safety by keeping the turkeys off the airport. There must be a snake oil salesman at work, trying to sell the County a bill of goods.  If the fence that already exists around the airport were maintained and cleared of trees and brush, maybe it would accomplish the same thing as this new fence is reported to do. I wonder if this new fence keeps out seagulls and other birds or is it just turkeys.

Posted by: Russell Garfield York | Jan 02, 2013 17:44

this story just gose to show how people are so sue crazey

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