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Bitter Families Return To Hotel Where Loved Ones Killed In Jet Crash

October 21, 1988

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ The families of 10 people killed when a military jet ripped through a hotel lobby lashed out at the Air Force on the anniversary of the crash, accusing officials of what one called ″the utmost insensitivity.″

Sobs filled the charred shell of the Ramada Inn-Airport on Thursday as parents poked through the debris where their children died in a fireball on Oct. 20, 1987. A year later, the seven-story hotel remains blackened, damaged and smelling of smoke.

″That’s where my daughter died. We think those were her shoes,″ said Robert T. Goldberg, pointing to a desktop in what was once the office of his daughter, Beth, who handled reservations for the hotel.

Air Force Master Sgt. Larry Martin and his wife, Cheryl, combed the rubble for the baby ring their daughter, Dawn Shelly, always wore before her death.

″It should be here. It should be here,″ Martin said as tears filled his eyes.

Family members said they are bitter about their treatment by the U.S. Air Force, which doesn’t have to pay damages under Indiana law for the deaths of adult victims who left no dependents.

″When the U.S. Air Force kills innocent people, survivors should receive justice,″ Goldberg said.

He and other parents contend the Indiana law prevents people here from receiving justice equal to those in other states.

″Because the Air Force is hiding behind Indiana’s wrongful death law, we are being treated with the utmost insensitivity,″ Martin said.

He added that the Air Force has ″shown little compassion for our family″ and it has chosen ″to devalue that beautiful gift of human life by treating the survivors’ families as if we are the guilty party in this wrongful act.″

The families said they want the law to be changed, and they want a jury to decide whether the crash was caused by negligence and whether damages should be awarded.

An Air Force panel already has cleared the pilot, Maj. Bruce Teagarden, of any wrongdoing in the crash.

Teagarden was en route from Pittsburgh to Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada when his jet’s engine shut down. He was trying to land at Indianapolis International Airport when he was forced to eject and the jet hit the hotel. He was unhurt.

Maintenance records showed previous mechanical problems with the jet, and an Air Force investigation indicated that Teagarden and air traffic controllers violated some regulations during the emergency.

Several families have filed suit against the government. Goldberg said the Air Force has offered his family $50,000 as compensation for his daughter’s death.

″The Air Force has been trying to reach settlements quickly, compassionately and responsibly,″ said Lt. Col. Thomas A. Mahr, public affairs officer for Air Force headquarters in Washington, D.C. ″We believe we are offering equitable settlements within the bounds of the laws that apply.″

Hotel owner Sam Saini of Dayton, Ohio, called Air Force officials ″inhuman people″ and said he plans to file a $13 million lawsuit against the Air Force this week in U.S. District Court here.

Saini, who wants to reopen the hotel, said the Air Force offered him a $5 million settlement. Last month, Saini’s insurance company paid him $4.2 million, but that covers only half his losses.

On Thursday, the victims’ relatives and friends also gathered at St. Christopher Catholic Church for a memorial service sponsored by the county’s Victim Assistance Fund.

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