A jury will continue on Monday to deliberate a multimillion-dollar wrongful-death case stemming from a 2014 midair crash over Frederick.
The panel is tasked with determining what, if any, compensation should be given to the families of two helicopter occupants killed on Oct. 23, 2014, when a Cirrus plane crashed with their aircraft: Christopher Parsons, 29, of Westminster, and William Jenkins, 47, of Morrison, Colorado.
Families for both men are each seeking millions of dollars from the company that runs the tower at Frederick Municipal Airport.
Breandan MacFawn, 35, of Cumberland, a passenger on the helicopter, also died in the crash, but his family is not part of the suit.
The jury heard closing arguments Friday and was unable to reach a verdict by late afternoon. So the jury opted to reconvene next week.
The attorneys for the families argued that Midwest Air Traffic Control Services, the contractor in charge of the tower, neglected its duty to warn the aircraft before the crash.
Midwest countered that it was ultimately the pilots’ lack of awareness that caused the fatal crash.
Summing up his case, the attorney for the Jenkins family, Bruce Lampert, encouraged jurors to use their common sense when making a decision.
He reminded them that the air traffic controller working at the time of the crash, Charlotte Happle, had cleared the plane to land after its pilot told her he saw two of the three helicopters she warned him about.
“Does that make sense?” he asked the jury. “Don’t let the Cirrus in the pattern if you don’t know where they are!”
Additionally, he said, Happle missed a call from the Cirrus when it was 3 miles from the airport because she was giving a jet permission to take off when it came in. Another air traffic controller had offered to help her with the clearance, but she declined.
Lampert argued that Happle was taking on too much, while Midwest’s attorneys maintained that she was an experienced controller who knew the traffic volume allowed her to man multiple positions at the tower.
Lampert asked for a total of $12.5 million for the Jenkins family and $4,500 to cover the cost of his funeral.
The figure included compensation for the pain and suffering of the pilots in the six seconds they were crashing.
“They knew the instant that rotor was gone, that they were dead,” Lampert said.
William Conroy, attorney for Midwest, said that the pilot of the Cirrus was flying lower than he was instructed to do.
Conroy also said Happle relayed four messages that provided traffic information that he argued the helicopter pilots could have used to avoid the crash.
He criticized the plaintiff’s experts’ re-creation of the crash, which showed that the plane was not visible to the helicopter pilots. The field of vision doesn’t change in the video, and Conroy argued that if that were the case with Jenkins and Parsons, they were neglecting their duty to actively scan the sky.
He told the jury that if the plaintiffs’ negligence led to the deaths, then the families cannot recover damages.
He acknowledged that it might be difficult to return a verdict in favor of Midwest in light of the families’ suffering.
“But facts are stubborn things, ladies and gentlemen, and you can’t just turn away from them,” Conroy said.
“You can’t let sympathy blur the lines,” he added later.
Robert Michael, attorney for the Parsons family, told the jury the law requires Midwest to prove that the helicopter occupants didn’t adequately protect themselves to avoid the crash.
Even in Midwest’s virtual reality simulation, which showed that a helicopter pilot could have seen the plane, the pilot wouldn’t have had enough time to react, he argued.
The Federal Aviation Administration calculated a pilot’s reaction time at 12.5 seconds, but in the simulation created by defense experts, the plane is visible for a much shorter time.
Conroy offered a counterpoint by reminding the jury that a helicopter expert had testified that the Robinson helicopter could drop very quickly.
“Had the helicopter dropped 10 feet in response to this, they would have missed each other,” Conroy said.
Michael asked the jury to compensate the Parsons family $6.6 million to $7.2 million, plus $16,558 for funeral expenses.
The plaintiff’s representatives acknowledged that the money would not truly make the families whole.
“Real justice would be if you could wave a wand, and Chris and Will walk through that door,” Michael said.