January 3, 2013

Knox County told it may face a suit over fatal plane crash

The estate of one victim gives notice within 180 days, meeting the legal requirement for suing.

By Dennis Hoey dhoey@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The estate of one of the three men who were killed in a plane crash Nov. 16 at the Knox County Regional Airport has put the county on notice that it may seek as much as $2 million in damages for what the estate's lawyer called "the negligence of Knox County and its employees, agents or servants."

click image to enlarge

William Hannigan III, left, and Marcelo Rugini

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David Cheney

Family photo

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Steven Silin, a Lewiston-based attorney, filed the notice with Knox County commissioners on Dec. 20.

The notice does not mean that Silin has to sue the county, but by giving notice within 180 days after the crash he has met the statutory requirement for doing so.

He now has two years to decide whether to sue.

Silin represents Jeffrey Spear, the personal representative for the estate of Marcelo Rugini, 24, the University of Maine student from Brazil who was a passenger in the Cessna 172N that crashed shortly after takeoff from the airport.

Also killed were the pilot, William "B.J." Hannigan III, 24, of Portland, and David Cheney, 22, of Beverly, Mass.

All three were members of the UMaine chapter of Lambda Chi Alpha, a fraternity on the Orono campus. Hannigan graduated from UMaine in 2011.

The plane crashed after hitting a pickup truck that was crossing the runway during the take-off.

The 1994 GMC truck was driven by Stephen Turner, 62, of Camden.

Turner is a pilot and an instructor for Penobscot Island Air -- an operation based at the airport.

"(Turner) entered a space where we thought the plane had the right of way," Silin said in a telephone interview. "It was obviously an avoidable crash. This was a case where there was clear visibility that night. There was no reason Mr. Turner could not have seen this plane taking off."

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash but has yet to release its final report.

The investigative process could take as long as a year.

Peter Marchesi, an attorney based in Waterville, represents Knox County.

He acknowledged the receipt of the notice but said the county won't respond until a lawsuit is filed.

Rugini was born in Muliterrno, Brazil.

He got involved with the Communicating for Agriculture Program in 2006, when he began working at the Spear farm in Nobleboro.

He worked there for two years before he was accepted on a full academic scholarship to UMaine, where he majored in sustainable agriculture.

Rugini's parents, Armando and Maria, operate a small tomato farm in Brazil, according to Silin.

"His parents don't speak a word of English," Silin said.

His representative in Maine, Jeffrey Spear, was like a "father figure and big brother to Marcelo," Silin said.

"There was no doubt he was a bright and rising star," Silin said.

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com

 

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