City appeals to high court in cadets crash case

AUBURN — The city of Lewiston is hoping the state's highest court will agree that a lower court judge erred when he declined to drop a civil claim against the city by parents of three high school cadets killed in a 2006 plane crash.

Ed Benjamin Jr. filed notice of appeal to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on behalf of the city. He challenged the ruling of a judge in Androscoggin County Superior Court after Benjamin filed a motion for a summary judgment to dismiss the case against Lewiston High School and the city.

Benjamin had argued in court that the city should be granted governmental immunity from the pending claims under the Maine Tort Claims Act. He said the city had contracted services with Twin Cities Air Services to provide orientation flights to the public high school's Air Force Junior ROTC students. Twin Cities used its plane and its pilot.

Justice Thomas Delahanty II wrote in his ruling last month that: "The city's use of the aircraft was indirect, as contractors were employed to operate the aircraft, but nevertheless constituted ‘use' under the plain meaning of the word."

Benjamin also said Delahanty erred when he ruled that the city was not entitled to "discretionary function immunity."

Benjamin had argued city employees are given discretion to make public policy without having to fear lawsuits that may arise from those decisions under the Maine Tort Claims Act. The school's decision to use Twin Cities Air Services for the flights and to let that company choose its pilots should be viewed as an extension of the discretionary function covered under the Maine Tort Claims Act, Benjamin had told the judge.

Delahanty ruled that Col. Robert Meyer, the Lewiston High School employee who headed up the ROTC program, wasn't making governmental public policy when he decided "whether, and to what extent, to review what the pilot was doing during a particular flight. ... Rather, it involved operational decisions made by a school employee regarding the safety of the children participating in that particular" program.

Benjamin is seeking to have the high court decide his appeal before the case continues to trial.

Lewiston High School students Nicholas Babcock, 17, Teisha Loesberg, 16, and Shannon Fortier, 15, were flying in a single-engine plane operated by Auburn-based Twin Cities Air Services LLC out of Bethel Airport. The plane crashed into Barker Mountain in nearby Newry, killing everyone aboard.

A federal report determined there was no evidence of mechanical error by the Cessna 172 N that would have caused it to crash. The National Transportation Safety Board pointed to incidents, including a cadet flight earlier on the day of the crash, when 24-year-old William "Charlie" Weir reportedly took unsafe chances. He reportedly flew too low, performed stall-and-dive maneuvers and executed a "zero G" maneuver, according to the complaints filed in court by families of the deceased students.

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Big daddy, I am a parent who

Big daddy, I am a parent who signed one of those releases. My daughter was on the first flight. In fact her group has switched with the group involved in the crash. It could very easily have been her in the crash. My daughter is one of them that talked to the NTSB, she is one of them that talked to Col. Meyer after the second flight took off. She has been haunted for 3 years because of it. She has been hounded by others because of it. She was there, she knows what went on, she lives with it every day of her life. By dragging this all on no one is getting on with their lives. And if the people who really knew the cadets involved they would know that blaming Colonel Meyer, the school, or the city is the LAST thing any of them would have wanted. Put the blame and responsibility where the NTSB did....PILOT ERROR. And as far as releases, we all sign them for our children to do lots of things that could be dangerous so if my daughter is now involved in a car accident do I go back to the driving school and sue them for not teaching her right? I don't think so.

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and the release got the

and the release got the school and the the city from being held responsible. Lt. Col. is someone i trusted and will always trust. i know what happened that day. i was there. i was on the plane before that crash. unless you were there you DONT know what you were talking about. I DO. We students are not stupid. my class was the class last affected by the plane crash and every time you guys talk bad about col. us cadets or the event itself, u bring back emotions and thoughts that we are still feeling. stop making me feel guilty. it was no ones fault except charlie. he screwed up and it cost me my friend's and classmate's lives. Just drop it. let us move on.

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First, parents all signed a

First, parents all signed a release for our kids to do this event. Second, the Col. was not told about what happened on the first flight until after the second flight took off. Third, people need to stop bringing up all of this and let the kids that survived get on with their lives. Some of them have enough guilt to deal with. Fourth, the school is not responsible nor is Col. Meyers, if anyone would listen and actually hear the kids they have told us this many, many times. It's about time Twin Cities Municipal Airport should have sent someone more mature to take high school kids up in the air.


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