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Family of the passenger who died in local plane crash blames city of Albany

071121-adh-nws-Fatal Ultrlight Crash05-my (file)

An NTSB investigator examines the remains of the ultralight that crashed in Millersburg.

More details have emerged about a potential lawsuit against the city of Albany over a deadly amateur aircraft crash in July, with the family of one of the deceased men claiming the city's negligence contributed to the accident.

The plane was hangered at the Albany Municipal Airport, which is owned and managed by the city. Albany city officials did not respond to requests for comment.

On the evening of July 9, Charles “Chuck” Kizer was flying a North Wing Mustang 3 with a passenger, Matthew Irish. The latter's wife and daughter were watching the fatal flight from their yard when the amateur pilot banked into a turn, then plummeted into a Millersburg field, killing both men.

Four months later, members of the Irish family want the city to accept responsibility for its role. Through their lawyer, they filed a tort notice, typically a precursor to a lawsuit, with the city, seeking claims damages against Albany and its employees.

They specifically name airport managers Robb Romeo, Chris Bailey and Jon Goldman, although Goldman has since left the city. The notice was filed by a law firm that specializes in aviation-related lawsuits.

Kathy Ballweber's Victorian Village is one of the many Christmas Storybook Land displays. The event runs from Dec. 3 to Dec. 17 at the Linn County Expo Center.

The tort notice specifies claims of negligence, wrongful death and personal injury, alleging that airport staff had the authority and responsibility to stop Kizer from flying out of the airport with a passenger. It notes that Kizer was a member of the Airport Advisory Commission and should have known and followed regulations.

Kizer was a longtime amateur pilot, though he did not have a pilot’s license, which is not required to fly ultralight aircraft.

The U.S. Ultralight Association, an organization for enthusiasts, indicates on its homepage that this type of aircraft is designed for a single occupant only.

The tort notice alleges it was illegal for Kizer to fly with a passenger aboard. It also claims Kizer’s aircraft, which was identified in crash documents as a North Wing Mustang 3, was unsafe and not airworthy.

“Without having been warned by Albany or the airport manager that it was not safe to fly with Mr. Kizer or in his aircraft, or that Mr. Kizer was unlicensed and his aircraft [was] unregistered, unairworthy, and illegal, Matthew David Irish was unaware of the dangers of being a passenger,” the tort notice states.

“He certainly didn’t have the depth of experience that somebody who is a licensed pilot would have,” Jimmy Anderson, a Seattle-based attorney representing the Irish family, said of Kizer.

Matt Clarke, a Lake Oswego-based attorney from the same firm — Krutch Lindell Bingham Jones — said if the lawsuit moves forward, it would be filed in circuit court, likely within a few months. He added it’s possible that a resolution could be reached prior to court proceedings.

Irish’s wife and daughter were traumatized by witnessing the crash at close range, Clarke said. He said in cases such as this one, the jury would be asked to set the amount of damages, which could climb because of that trauma.

The total amount of damages is undetermined, Clarke said, but would exceed caps established by Oregon law, which are currently $782,600 for a single claimant, and $1,565,100 for multiple claimants in the same incident.

“Our investigation is ongoing, and part of that includes getting as much documentation and records from the city as we can,” Clarke said. “We do have information that gives us a basis to believe that it was pretty widely known that Mr. Kizer was not licensed and that he was regularly taking passengers up in his aircraft.”

The Albany City Council held an executive session during its meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 1, to discuss the potential litigation. Following the discussion, which was closed to the public, the council voted unanimously to provide legal defense for the three city staffers named in the tort notice.

Mayor Alex Johnson II recused himself from the vote due to a pre-existing relationship with the claimant, according to a statement from City Manager Peter Troedsson.

The mayor was reportedly a close friend of Irish, whose wife, Elizabeth, served as Johnson’s political campaign manager. The men also officiated high school football together. Johnson had also commended Kizer for his service to the community after the crash.

A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board states that after flying over his home nearly a mile north of the airport, Kizer continued east for around 3 miles before turning left to fly over Irish’s home in the dusky but clear evening sky.

Witnesses on the ground recorded the incident on mobile phones. The report states an analysis of the videos showed the aircraft banked left to almost a 90-degree turn. The left wing continued dropping down and the aircraft descended toward the ground as the turn tightened before impact.

Cody Mann covers the cities of Albany and Lebanon. He can be contacted at 541-812-6113 or Cody.Mann@lee.net.

“[Kizer] certainly didn’t have the depth of experience that somebody who is a licensed pilot would have.” Jimmy Anderson, attorney for Irish family

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