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Family of woman killed in plane crash files suit in Las Vegas

Updated April 8, 2019 - 5:48 pm

The parents of an Instagram model killed in a plane crash have filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Las Vegas.

Mariah Sunshine Coogan, 23, was among six people killed in an April 9, 2018, crash in Scottsdale, Arizona.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday by Stacey and Christopher Coogan, alleges that a student pilot from Las Vegas, James Pedroza, 28, and a pilot trainer, 32-year-old Erik Valente, violated federal aviation regulations and operated the Piper PA-24 Comanche “in a careless and reckless manner so as to endanger the life of Coogan.”

Coogan, who had more than 31,000 followers on Instagram, posted a video to the social media site from the plane shortly before it went down.

Coogan, Pedroza and Valente died in the crash, along with Anand Anil Patel, 28, Helena Lagos, 22, and Iris Carolina Rodriguez Garcia, 23. Lagos was an international business student at UNLV.

Pedroza was seated in the front of the plane, which was headed for North Las Vegas Airport, and had cocaine in his system, according to an Arizona Republic story that cited a Maricopa County medical examiner’s office report.

The lawsuit cites regulations prohibiting “using any drug that affects the person’s faculties in any way contrary to safety.”

A National Transportation Safety Board preliminary accident report does not list a cause of the crash but states that runway surveillance video captured the airplane’s wings “rocking during and shortly after rotation.”

Coogan and the others died of blunt-force injuries, according to the medical examiner’s office website.

The suit was filed in Clark County District Court against the administrators of Pedroza’s and Valente’s estates.

It also names Blake Brooksby, who could not be reached for comment Monday, as an owner of the plane.

The plane crashed shortly after takeoff on the TPC Scottsdale Champions Golf Course — the sister to the Stadium Course where the PGA’s Waste Management Phoenix Open is held each February.

After the crash, the president of Las Vegas’ All in Aviation flight school recalled Valente as an experienced pilot.

According to a pilot biography page on All in Aviation’s website, Valente, who was independently contracted by the school, began flight training when he was 16 at Rancho High School’s aviation academy. He received his private pilot certificate before he graduated.

Valente’s Facebook profile also shows that he had worked as a corporate jet pilot since 2014 and studied aviation management at the University of North Dakota. He also was an Eagle Scout, his family said.

The families of Lagos and Patel are expected to file a lawsuit this week in connection with the crash, according to their Las Vegas attorney, William Kemp.

Contact David Ferrara at dferrara@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039. Follow @randompoker on Twitter.

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