Knoxville family's lawsuit settled from Iraq helicopter crash

A settlement has been reached in a lawsuit over the death of a Knoxville serviceman killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq, but a federal magistrate judge Tuesday delayed approval because of mistakes and omissions in the paperwork.

The survivors of Capt. Marcus Ray Alford, who was 28, have struck a deal with government contractor Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. and various companies that supplied parts for Bell’s Kiowa OH-58D Warrior helicopter to settle a wrongful-death lawsuit filed against the firms.

The terms of the deal are being kept under wraps for now. Attorney Ursula Bailey wrote in a motion she wants to keep the deal secret to keep relatives from hitting up Alford’s two young children and their grandmother, Karen Ray, for money.

“Specifically, counsel ... would like to protect the minor (children), and Plaintiff Ray from an onslaught of family and friends seeking to establish or re-establish relationships with the hopes of financial gain,” Bailey wrote.

Alford, a South-Doyle High School and Carson-Newman College graduate, and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Billie Jean Grinder, 25, were piloting the Bell chopper when it crashed south of Mosul, Iraq, in February 2010 as the pair tried to land. They were not under fire and no enemy forces were nearby, the military has said.

The families blame the crash on the failure of a system on the Warrior helicopter known as the Full Authority Digital Electronic Control, or FADEC.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Clifford Shirley on Tuesday denied initial approval of the settlement, chastising attorneys for shoddy work in preparing related documents. Mistakes included the inaccurate naming of Alford’s daughter.

“I’ve got multiple different references to names,” Shirley said. “The names have to be exact. ... The court speaks through its orders.”

The documents inaccurately stated that the settlement money would be paid to Ray. Instead, the money will go into an escrow account with Knox County Chancery Court, and Chancellor Daryl Fansler will approve any payouts Ray may request on behalf of the children.

Shirley also ordered attorneys Mark Brown and George Underwood Jr., who represent Ray and her grandchildren along with Bailey, to include in the settlement documents an accounting of just how much the legal team will be paid.

“I need to know the net (amount the children will receive) because at the end of the day what I have to decide is what’s in the best interest of the minor children,” Shirley said.

Shirley apologized to Ray, who was required to attend Tuesday’s hearing with the two children, for delaying approval but reiterated it was inaccuracies in the documents drafted by the attorneys that were the cause. He ordered the attorneys to correct the paperwork and return for a hearing Monday, when he will then decide whether to approve the deal.

“Again, all I’m deciding here is if this settlement is in the best interest of the children,” Shirley said.

Bell had argued through its attorneys the firm could not be sued for deaths that occur in times of war even if the control system on its helicopter was to blame. The company did not concede system failure, however.

Grinder’s husband also has sued, but the settlement discussed at Tuesday’s hearing did not address the Grinder portion of the lawsuit or whether a settlement has been reached on behalf of Grinder’s survivors.

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