Charges in fatal copter crash dropped
Prosecutors consider re-indicting the pilot in the ocean incident
LIHUE » Manslaughter charges were dropped yesterday against the pilot whose helicopter crashed into the ocean off Kauai's north shore in September 2005, killing three.
But prosecutors said they likely will re-indict Heli USA pilot Glen Lampton, 45, with the manslaughter charges, as well as reckless endangerment, tampering with evidence, and making false statements to federal investigators.
When Lampton was indicted in January, prosecutors presented radar data provided by the Navy that showed only one helicopter in the area at the time of the crash.
Lampton told investigators that he flew into an extreme weather system because he had to avoid another helicopter flying out of the system. The radar data seemed to contradict this, and Deputy Prosecutor Ken Norelli said his "hot-dogging" caused the death of three people.
But there was a problem: The Navy provided radar information for the wrong day. In the correct radar data, no helicopters could be seen.
"It's nobody's fault," Lampton's attorney, Sam King, said. "The Navy just gave (the prosecutors) the wrong data."
Judge Kathleen Watanabe ruled that the snafu was enough to dismiss the indictment.
Norelli had argued that the radar data still did not support Lampton, and said after court that another grand jury indictment could come as soon as next month.
Lampton also was notified that he would be getting his pilot's license back, King said.
The Federal Aviation Administration settled with Lampton, agreeing that his piloting before the accident had been careless, and Lampton agreed not to appeal the decision, King said.
Lampton had originally been charged with recklessness by the FAA. It if had been sustained, he would have forfeited his license.
"The only thing that's stopping him is a sore shoulder" unrelated to the crash, King said.
Lampton, a pilot for the Las Vegas-based Heli USA, was piloting a tour around the Garden Isle on Sept. 23, 2005, when he encountered a heavy thunderstorm and plunged into the ocean near Haena Point on the north shore.
Three people, Mary Soucy and Catherine Baron of Maine, and Laverne Clifton of Ohio, drowned shortly after the crash. Lampton and two other passengers survived with minor injuries.
Lampton now lives in Las Vegas and is still employed by Heli USA.