Blackwater deaths suit tossed after six years

By Mike Baker
Wednesday, January 26, 2011

RALEIGH, N.C. - A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit that blamed the security company formerly known as Blackwater for the deaths of four contractors killed in a 2004 ambush on the restive streets of Iraq.

U.S. District Judge James C. Fox said court-ordered arbitration fell apart because neither side was paying the costs of that process, so he decided to end the case nearly seven years after the killings.

Katy Helvenston, the mother of contractor Scott Helvenston, said Tuesday that the families could not afford the costs and that she fears the case is over. The lawsuit was filed about a year after the men's deaths.

"It's pretty much destroyed my life," Helvenston said. "I haven't known one moment of joy since Scotty was slaughtered. I think the worst part is the betrayal from my country. I feel so betrayed."

Insurgents killed the four contractors, then mutilated the bodies, dragged the charred remains through the streets and hung two of the corpses from a bridge. Images from the scene were relayed around the world, and the event triggered the U.S. military siege known as the battle of Fallujah.

Survivors of the contractors contend Blackwater failed to prepare the men for their mission and did not provide them with appropriate equipment, such as a map. Helvenston, Jerry Zovko, Wesley Batalona and Michael Teague were sent in Mitsubishi sport-utility vehicles to guard a supply convoy. Their survivors argued that they should have been given armored vehicles.

A congressional investigation seconded that view, calling Blackwater an "unprepared and disorderly" organization on the day of the ambush.

Blackwater, however, argued that the men were betrayed by the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps and targeted in a well-planned ambush. The company said the result of the ambush probably would have been the same even if they had stronger weapons, armored vehicles, maps or even more men.

After a 2007 shooting in Baghdad, Blackwater changed its management, name and, eventually, its ownership. USTC Holdings, an investment firm with ties to founder Erik Prince, acquired the company, now called Xe Services, in December. The deal includes its training facility in Moyock, N.C.

Daniel Callahan, an attorney for the survivors, said they plan to appeal the ruling. Helvenston said she does not expect success from further appeals.

An attorney for Xe did not immediately respond to requests seeking comment.

- Associated Press

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