POMPANO BEACH, FLA. (WSVN) - The family of Lurean Wheaton, who tragically lost her life when a Broward County Sheriff’s Office helicopter crashed into her apartment last month, has filed a $50 million wrongful death claim against BSO.
Gary C. Robb, an aviation lawyer who represented the Bryant family in the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash case, is leading the legal battle for the Wheaton family. Robb questioned the safety and responsibility of law enforcement agencies.
The legal action comes as Wheaton’s loved ones are still reeling from the Aug. 28 tragedy.
“I’d make her laugh. When she laughed, she’d laugh with joy” said Michael Varin, a friend of the victim. “She’s a sweetheart.”
Authorities said the ill-fated helicopter was en route to transport a patient from a car accident in North Lauderdale when it caught fire mid-flight, lost control and crashed into Wheaton’s apartment building.
Robb said the victim, 65, was asleep in her bedroom when the devastating incident occurred.
“If you are not safe while asleep in your own home, where can you be safe?” said Robb.
According to Robb’s release, Wheaton’s partner, Zerney Taylor, was also in the apartment and walking back from the bathroom when he saw the chopper land on top on Wheaton, “crushing her to death.”
The claim is supported by a 2017 Law Enforcement Aviation Consultant’s Report, which highlighted the helicopter’s overdue replacement and identified 19 areas of deficiency within BSO’s Aviation Unit. The report raised serious concerns about the agency’s maintenance practices.
“That a public entity charged with protecting and safeguarding the public would consciously fly dangerous helicopters directly over the homes, schools, and businesses of Broward County residents for six years is reckless to the extreme,” said Robb.
The claim further alleges that the BSO knowingly disregarded maintenance and parts replacement guidelines, exceeding the manufacturer’s recommended flight hours.
Back in June, Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony admitted the fleet’s outdated status and confessed to violating the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule, allowing helicopters to operate beyond their safe flight hours.
“Our rescue helicopter that we utilized, it’s been around since 1999. We’ve been piecemealing parts for years to maintain the flight capability.”
“The manufacturer’s required maintenance procedures are not optional. Ignoring these procedures and grossly exceeding permitted helicopter flight hours as BSO did was guaranteed to lead to disaster,” Robb wrote in the release. “These are inexcusable and flagrant violations of the most basic aviation safety practices. This helicopter was unsafe, unairworthy, and never should have been in the air.”
Tony addressed the lawsuit briefly on Wednesday.
“As you can imagine, these families are hurting, just like we were hurting as an organization, and I would expect them to do anything that they think is appropriate without resistance from myself or this organization,” he said.
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