Not Enough Evidence To Support Manslaughter Charges
For the second time this year, a
judge dismissed charges against the pilot of a Bellanca Viking that
crashed into an Oklahoma lake last year, killing three
As ANN reported, Thomas Brent
Caldwell was at the controls of the accident aircraft (type shown
below) when it went down in Grand Lake, east of Tulsa, on December
16, 2006. Caldwell was able to escape the plane and swim for shore.
Police at the time said Caldwell was intoxicated when they found
him, and that he did not possess a valid pilot license.
Caldwell, 30, faced three counts of first-degree manslaughter in
Delaware County Court, for the deaths of Mariano Carlos Casas, 15,
of Pryor; Eduardo Ortiz Robles, 20, of Mexico; and Campos Gonzalez,
33, also of Mexico.
In May, those charges were dropped,
as District Judge Robert Haney found the "cause of the accident was
the engine stalling, there is no evidence of why the engine stalled
and, more importantly, no evidence of the defendant doing something
that was of criminal nature that 'caused' the engine to stall that
resulted in the crash that resulted in the deaths."
However, the District Attorney's office refiled charges earlier
this month, citing new evidence contained in the National
Transportation Safety Board's probable cause report on the
accident, which was released in July. The NTSB ruled "loss of engine power for undetermined
reasons and the pilot's improper decision to extend the landing
gear for the water landing" led to the crash, and
"contributing factors were the prevailing night conditions and the
lack of suitable terrain for the forced landing."
The NTSB noted authorities detected alcohol on Caldwell's
breath, and that his speech was slurred. Five liquor bottles --
four opened -- were found inside the plane, though no trace of
alcohol was detected in Caldwell's system, however, when he was
given a blood-alcohol test six hours after the crash.
FAA records indicate Caldwell has never held a private pilot
license, or a student pilot certificate -- and the NTSB notes
Caldwell failed to file an accident report on the crash, or speak
to the Investigator-In-Charge.
On Tuesday, Haney once again ruled in Caldwell's favor... saying
there wasn't enough evidence submitted by the state to warrant the
re-filing of charges in the case, according to KOTV-6.
Assistant DA Bryce Lair was disappointed in Haney's ruling,
though he does not plan to appeal.
"Of course, my office, with all due respect to the Court,
completely disagrees with his decision, but at some point we have
to be realistic and acknowledge the fact that this judge does not
believe that what Mr. Caldwell is accused of doing is a crime and
that regardless of how we procedurally attack this case we will not
be able to get it to trial," said Lair.