The second of two federal lawsuits over the crash of a helicopter seven years ago that killed two Sacramento County sheriff's deputies and injured a third has been settled, closing the book on the incident's legal aftermath.
Turbomeca S.A., the manufacturer of the craft's engine, has agreed to pay the county $1.5 million for various damages alleged to have resulted from the crash, according to a copy of the settlement agreement obtained from County Counsel John Whisenhunt.
Turbomeca is a French company accused in both suits of supplying a defective part that caused the helicopter to slam into a hill near Lake Natoma.
The county claimed damages for workers' compensation benefits it paid to the families of Deputies Joseph Kievernagel and Kevin Blount, who died in the crash, and to Deputy Eric Henrikson, who suffered severe and lasting injuries.
To the extent there was a lack of insurance coverage, the county claimed additional damages for the loss of the helicopter and onboard equipment, for travel and other post-accident investigation costs, and punitive damages.
"The county acknowledges that this settlement is made to compromise a disputed claim, that (defendants) deny any fault or liability, and that the agreement to settle and the payment of the proceeds are not an admission of fault or liability," the pact says.
The bargain was struck in an April 11 mediation, the final draft of the document was signed July 31 and the suit was dismissed Aug. 24.
Turbomeca USA Inc., in Grand Prairie, Texas, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The families of the two deceased deputies and Henrikson settled their lawsuit against Turbomeca in 2008. That settlement bars the parties and lawyers from disclosing its terms or making any public comments, and court papers refer to "Turbomeca's strong concern regarding confidentiality."
In the early evening of July 13, 2005, Kievernagel was piloting the single-engine helicopter, Blount was in the seat beside him and Henrikson was in a jump seat. Kievernagel, 36, and Blount, 29, were ejected from the crushed cabin, even though they were wearing seat belts, and were pronounced dead at the scene. Henrikson, now 34, was not ejected.
Both suits alleged corporate greed and cover-up.
They said the company was aware 4½ years earlier of the mechanical problem that caused the crash but did nothing to warn those flying the craft.
The company's "game plan was to keep their fingers crossed and gamble with the lives of innocent people," the suits declared.
By May 2005, two months before the crash, Turbomeca was "aware of more than 10 instances of failure of the (defective part) because of an inadvertent inside-out installation, causing total loss of power and requiring emergency landings" of at least six helicopters, and at least four incidents involving helicopters on the ground, the suits alleged.
Yet the company "chose not to alert and inform its customers" and regulatory agencies because it did not want to pay for a recall of over 300 engines, they alleged.
On July 20, 2004, the company issued a service bulletin recommending that a newly designed part be installed during the next engine overhaul.