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ValuJet Case Deliberated

December 3, 1999

MIAMI (AP) _ A tear rolled down Gwendolyn Marks’ face as she remembered her son and the plane crash that ``took away a bright ray of sunshine from our lives.″

She spent a day off from her nursing job Thursday to listen to closing arguments in the trial of a jet repair company charged in events leading up to the ValuJet crash in 1996.

``I have to see it through to the end. It’s something I have to do,″ the Miami woman said after the jury began deliberations in the three-week conspiracy trial of SabreTech and two former employees.

She considers sitting through the courtroom re-creation of the crash ``the second-hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.″ Worse was the National Transportation Safety Board hearing six months after the DC-9 crashed, killing all 110 aboard on May 11, 1996.

``To go back through it is like walking through the same fire,″ she said, appalled by what she considered ``mistakes without caring, without thinking.″

Jurors resumed deliberations today.

SabreTech and former employees Daniel Gonzalez and Eugene Florence are charged with lying on repair records leading up to the crash.

At the heart of the case are 144 oxygen generators removed by SabreTech from other ValuJet planes and delivered to the ill-fated flight without any markings indicating they were hazardous waste.

Crash investigators blamed the explosive-tipped generators for starting a cargo fire that spread to the jet’s cabin.

Florence signed a work card stating he had installed shipping caps on generators but admitted days after the crash that he had not. Gonzalez was accused of pressing Florence and other mechanics to sign generator paperwork at a session attended by ValuJet representatives eager to get a new plane in service.

Gonzalez was charged with signing paperwork for a de-icing project that the prosecution contends was not actually done on an Aserca Airlines jet in December 1995.

The Aserca work card supported the prosecution’s charge that SabreTech created a dollar-driven corporate culture of lies, rushed work and skipped assignments in the first criminal trial of an aviation company over a U.S. jetliner crash.

The defense acknowledged unintentional mistakes were made but said no crimes were committed.

If convicted, Florence faces up to 15 years in prison, while Gonzalez faces up to 10 years.

SabreTech also faces 17 counts of hazardous materials violations and could face up to $5.8 million in fines plus restitution to victims’ families. SabreTech, which is no longer is in business, also has been charged in state court with murder and manslaughter in the crash.

For Ms. Marks, the loss of her 23-year-old son Philmore, an athlete and musician headed to a brother’s college graduation, still causes daily pain.

``For me, it’s an open wound with a lot of salt to be rubbed into it,″ she said. ``It’s just not right.″