Lawsuit over Blue Angels crash could go to trial by April

pdonohue@beaufortgazette.comFebruary 4, 2012 

A lawsuit filed against the federal government by a Beaufort couple whose home was badly damaged in the 2007 crash that killed a Blue Angels pilot could be headed for trial.

George and Shirley Smith filed the suit in October 2010, claiming their home on Pine Grove Road was destroyed in April 2007 when the landing-gear assembly of an F-18 Hornet piloted by Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Davis crashed through the roof of their one-story house, according to federal court documents.

The couple is seeking $2.45 million, claiming they continue to feel the psychological effects of the crash and that their property is similarly "psychologically affected," and continues to lose value.

Attorneys for the government asked U.S. District Judge C. Weston Houk to dismiss the suit, claiming the Smiths already accepted a settlement, which relieves the Navy of any liability for the property damage.

Houk ordered the parties to mediation, and said if they could not reach an agreement, they should be ready for trial no later than April 30, according to federal court records.

No agreement has been reached, court records show.

A psychologist from the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston was deposed last month after reviewing the couple's medical records, and diagnosed Shirley Smith as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from the crash, according to a copy of the evaluation.

George Smith also was diagnosed as "stressed and compromised by the difficulties that stem from the Blue Angels crash," the evaluation said.

Attempts this week to reach the Smiths were unsuccessful.

The crash occurred during the 2007 Beaufort Air Show when Davis, a 32-year-old native of Pittsfield, Mass., became disoriented during a sharp turn that created gravitational forces almost seven times greater than normal.

In the performance's last maneuver, Davis was trailing the other pilots and accelerated to more than 425 mph. The sudden force caused him to lose awareness of his speed and altitude, investigators said.

Davis' F-18 Hornet clipped several trees and broke into pieces that were strewn across backyards near the intersection of Shanklin and Pine Grove roads.

Investigators say Davis never lost consciousness and likely steered the jet in its final moments to avoid hitting homes.

In addition to killing Davis, the crash injured eight people on the ground and damaged dozens of homes.

Jennifer Zeldis, spokeswoman for the Office of the Judge Advocate General of the Navy, said the Navy received 22 claims totaling $1.8 million in losses, and all of them have been paid.

According to a 700-page report on the crash released in January 2008, claims ranged from thousands of dollars in property damage, to those who said they were injured running from falling debris, to a man who said he lost his bifocals searching for Davis' body.

Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/OnBaseBeaufort.

Related content:

As this year's air show nears, residents, officials recall fatal 2007 Blue Angles crash, May 9, 2009

Assessing the damage one year after the Blue Angels crash, April 21, 2008

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