Family of third plane crash victim puts Knox County on notice

Posted May 19, 2013, at 3:32 p.m.
David Cheney
Courtesy photo
David Cheney

OWLS HEAD, Maine — Knox County has received the third notice that it may be sued for up to $2 million as a result of a plane crash at the county’s airport in Owls Head that killed three young men.

The claims against the county total $6 million.

The latest claim was filed by Michael Cheney, father of 22-year-old David M. Cheney. David Cheney was a passenger aboard a Cessna 172 single-engine plane that crashed around sunset Nov. 16 at the Knox County Regional Airport.

The notice of claim is required to be filed under Maine law before a lawsuit can be filed. The party has two years to file a lawsuit from when the crash occurred.

The claim filed on behalf of David Cheney’s estate alleges that the crash was the result of negligence on the part of Knox County. The county was negligent, according to the claim, because it allowed a truck to cross the airport property with inadequate lighting and other unspecified defects.

The airplane crashed after it struck a 1994 GMC pickup truck driven by 62-year-old Stephen Turner of Camden. Turner, who is a pilot and instructor at Penobscot Island Air, had escorted another plane across the airport grounds when he crossed the main runway as the Cessna was taking off.

The plane rose but then spun out of control and crashed, killing Cheney, pilot William B.J. Hannigan, 24, of South Portland and passenger Marcelo Rugini, a 24-year-old University of Maine student.

The county was also at fault because it failed to adopt and failed to enforce adequate safety rules for the operation and maintenance of the airport, according to the Cheney claim. The claim also alleges the county failed to properly train or warn people who use the airport and failed to properly design, construct, use and manage the airport.

The Cheney estate is represented by attorney James Martemucci of Portland.

County Administrator Andrew Hart referred questions Sunday to the county’s attorney, Peter Marchesi.

The two prior claims by the personal representatives of the estates of Hannigan and Rugini made the same claims. The claim on behalf of Rugini was filed in December and the Hannigan claim was filed in March.

Hannigan was a UMaine alumnus and his two passengers were students who belonged to the same fraternity — Lambda Chi Alpha.

After the crash, airport officials recommended and the Knox County commissioners voted in February to construct a road on the side of the airport opposite the terminal to reduce the number of vehicles that are allowed to cross the runway. The gravel road is expected to be built later this year.

Commissioners also approved installation of a new system to record radio traffic at the airport and agreed to purchase equipment to record activity at the two runways.

The Knox County airport is considered a general aviation airport. There is no control tower and planes do not have to be logged in for arrivals or takeoffs.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary report, Turner told investigators he approached the runway in his truck, announced his intent to cross the runway and did. He reported while he was crossing, he saw something grayish in color and then got out of his vehicle and noticed the airplane attempt to climb but then spin down and crash in nearby woods on the airport grounds.

A final report by the NTSB can take up to a year.

Maine’s 16 counties are part of a self-funded insurance risk management pool, according to the Maine County Commissioners Association annual report for 2013. Knox County’s insurance payment to the pool for 2013 is about $92,000.

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