Mother of helicopter crash victim files wrongful death suit against two companies

Kelly Holleran Feb. 18, 2009, 11:10am

The mother of a man who died with four others in a helicopter crash last December has filed suit against Motorcraft Leasing Co. and Bell Helicopter Textron, alleging the crash was the result of the companies' negligence.

Gayle Spikes' son, James Cody Smalts, died on Dec. 11 after a Bell model 206-L4 helicopter crashed into the Gulf of Mexico.

Smalts was found four and a half hours after the crash and died from asphyxia due to drowning with complications from hypothermia, according to the complaint filed Feb. 13 in Jefferson County District Court.

In the early morning hours of Dec. 11, Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana were hit with a rare snowstorm. According to the lawsuit, the helicopter sat outside all night and was covered with ice and snow before it took off.

Spikes alleges the pilot Joseph Laugelle failed to adequately remove the ice and snow from the engine air intake and engine air plenum before the flight.

As a result, when the helicopter was less than two miles offshore, it crashed, the plaintiff alleges.

According to reports in the Beaumont Enterprise, the helicopter was bound for an offshore oil platform and crashed about eight miles south of Sabine Pass around 10 minutes after take off. All five of the men on board, including pilot Laugelle and Smalts, were killed.

The lawsuit states that even though the pilot failed to report landing at his destination platform or to make his required 15-minute position report to Rotorcraft's communications center, Rotorcraft failed to notify the Coast Guard about a missing helicopter until nearly two hours after take off.

"If Rotorcraft had followed their own position reporting and overdue aircraft procedures, the deceased, Plaintiff, would have been timely rescued," the suit states.

Right before the crash, Smalts suffered mental anguish and conscious pain and suffering, Spikes alleges.

Because of the crash, Spikes suffered damages for the loss of Smalts' financial contribution, inheritance, services, support, counseling, advice, care, comfort and companionship, she claims.

She has also incurred funeral and burial expenses, according to the complaint.

Spikes is seeking costs, pre- and post-judgment interest, attorney's fees, and other relief to which she may be entitled.

She is represented by Timothy Ferguson and Lauren E. Marshall of the Ferguson Firm in Beaumont and by Jon Kettles of The Kettles Law Firm in Dallas.

The case has been assigned to Judge Milton Shuffield, 136th District Court.

Case No. D183-287

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