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Woman Files Suit After Son's Death In Helicopter Crash


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2/22/2009
Brent Adams
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The mother of a man who died along with four others from the personal injuries they sustained in a helicopter crash last December has filed suit against Rotorcraft Leasing Co. and Bell Helicopter Textron, claiming the companies’ negligence was the cause of the crash.

According to the suit she filed on February 13 in Texas’ Jefferson County District Court, Gayle Spikes’ son, James Cody Smalts, died on December 11 after a Bell model 206-L4 helicopter crashed into the Gulf of Mexico.

The suit says Smalts was found four and a half hours after the crash occurred. He died of asphyxia due to drowning with complications from hypothermia, according to the suit.

On December 11, Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana were hit with a rare snowstorm in the early morning. The suit said the helicopter sat outside all night and was covered with ice and snow before takeoff.

According to Spikes, Joseph Laugelle, the pilot, failed to adequately remove the ice and snow from the engine air intake and engine air plenum before taking off, which caused the helicopter to crash when it was less than two miles offshore.

Reports in the Beaumont Enterprise say the helicopter was bound for an offshore oil platform and crashed approximately eight miles south of Sabine Pass about 10 minutes after taking off. All five occupants of the helicopter, including Laugelle and Smalts, died in the crash.

According to the suit, Rotorcraft failed to notify the Coast Guard of a missing helicopter until nearly two hours after takeoff, despite the pilot failing to report landing or make his required 15-minute position report to Rotorcraft’s communications center.

The suit says that the deceased would have been timely rescued if Rotorcraft had followed its own position reporting and overdue aircraft procedures.

Spikes claims that Smalts experienced mental anguish and conscious pain and suffering right before the crash.

Spikes claims that the crash caused her lost financial contribution, inheritance, services, support, counseling, advice, care, comfort, and companionship from Smalts. She also claims she incurred funeral and burial expenses.


Spikes seeks costs, pre- and post-judgment interest, attorney’s fees, and other relief to which she may be entitled.


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