The family of a Texas man killed when a racing aircraft crashed into spectators in the National Championship Air Races in Reno filed a $25 million lawsuit Tuesday against the pilot’s family, a mechanic on the World War II-era aircraft and the organization that hosted the event.
The lawsuit filed in Collin County, Texas, is believed to be the first stemming from the Sept. 16 crash of pilot Jimmy Leeward’s P-51D Mustang during the air races at Reno-Stead Airport. Eleven people died, including Leeward, 74, of Ocala, Fla. At least 74 were hurt.
“There are two groups of wrongdoers,” said Houston-based attorney Tony Buzbee, who filed the civil liability lawsuit on behalf of Dr. Sezen Altug, a physician and widow of dead spectator Craig Salerno, and their two children, ages 6 and 8. “Those who pushed the limits of physics on the plane, being risk takers and reckless without regard for the people who might be watching them, and those who promoted and profited from hosting the show.”
Leeward’s son, Kent Leeward, declined comment on the lawsuit, which also names Texas-based mechanic Richard Shanholtzer Jr., the Reno Air Racing Association, Leeward Racing Inc. and family corporations in Florida , and Aeroacoustics Inc., an aircraft parts maker in Washington state.
Reno Air Racing Association chief executive Michael Houghton said he hadn’t seen the lawsuit but offered “condolences to the families and fans that are affected by this devastating tragedy.”
“We fully expect a number of lawsuits to be filed,” Houghton told The Associated Press. “This is the first.”
Shanholtzer and an Aeroacoustics official did not immediately respond to messages.
Salerno, 50, of Friendswood, Texas, was a dispatcher for Continental Airlines and a lieutenant for a volunteer fire department at home. He also volunteered at an annual Houston air show and was an avid racing pilot. He attended the races with a friend who was hospitalized with critical injuries after the crash.
National Transportation Safety Board investigators are probing the crash. A board member has said they were focusing on a piece that apparently fell off the tail of Leeward’s plane, dubbed “The Galloping Ghost,” as it went out of control.
Photos showed a tail part known as an elevator trim tab missing as the plane climbed sharply, then rolled and plunged nose-first at more than 400 mph into box seats on the tarmac in front of the center of the grandstands. Dead and injured people were scattered widely, but there was no fire.
Leeward was a veteran movie stunt pilot and air racer who competed at the Reno air races since 1975.