By Linda Deutsch – AP Special Correspondent
July 7, 2003
LOS ANGELES (AP) – The families of three people among 18 killed in a charter jet crash in Aspen, Colo., accepted $11.7 million Monday in a last-minute settlement with the plane’s operators.
The judge announced the end of the lawsuit as a jury was about to begin the punitive phase of a trial in which the panel had already awarded the families $10.2 million in compensatory damages.
The Gulfstream III jet operated by Avjet Corp. of Burbank, Calif., was carrying 15 passengers from the Los Angeles area to a birthday party and ski weekend when it hit a hillside on approach to the Aspen airport in March 2001. The passengers, pilot, co-pilot and a flight attendant were killed.
Brian Panish, who represented the plaintiffs, said outside court that Avjet Corp. and the estate of pilot Robert Frisbie agreed to pay $9.5 million to the family of Marissa Witham and $2.2 million to the grandparents of two young men, Jose and Joseph Aguilar, who were also on the flight.
Witham, 22, was an intern at Fox television station KTTV in Los Angeles. Her parents said she had hoped to become a news anchor.
Asked if she was satisfied with the award, Laurence Witham, Witham’s mother, said: “I would like to see no one fly Avjet ever again.”
Martin Rose, who represented Avjet and the pilot’s estate, said he was pleased with the settlement. He said that all other cases brought by the families of the other victims had been settled.
“The crew was highly experienced,” he said. “They made some mistakes.”
Jury forewoman Vanessa Smith said the panel would have awarded more money if the case had continued.
During the trial, the plaintiff’s attorney said two planes ahead of the jet turned away on approach because visibility was bad. Avjet’s attorney said a cockpit voice recorder showed the pilots discussed a curfew for landing at the airport after sunset and determined they had enough time.