The City of Newark has filed a multimillion-dollar negligence lawsuit against the estate of the Bethesda man whose small plane crashed into a residential neighborhood.
The Nov. 26 crash in bad weather that killed Itzhak O. Jacoby, his wife, Gail, and their 13-year-old daughter, Atira, also demolished buildings in the Newark neighborhood and injured 25 people, two of them critically.
An angry Newark Mayor Sharpe James (D) said yesterday that he turned to litigation as a last resort after New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman (R) refused to ask the federal government to declare the crash site a federal disaster area and make it eligible for aid.
"No one seems to feel any urgency about this. That's what makes me mad. . . . I saw displaced people from Kosovo brought to Fort Dix . . . but here are American citizens being told to fend for themselves," said James, whose office filed the lawsuit Wednesday in Essex County Superior Court. "The only recourse we had is to do what someone does after they're in a car accident: go to a court of law."
James said the city needs help in the wake of the fiery crash, which destroyed a factory building, damaged the homes of six families and cost an estimated $3 million in cleanup and overtime pay for police, firefighters and other city employees.
James said he asked Whitman's office to request $1.5 million in federal assistance but was refused: "They told us it wasn't that severe, that it was just a Beechcraft, not a 747."
But a spokeswoman for Whitman said that a governor can recommend federal aid only "in cases where state and local resources are not sufficient to meet the needs." The spokeswoman, Steffanie Bell, said that Newark could make use of a state disaster fund, intended for municipalities, but that James has not sought help through it.
Bell said the New Jersey Department of Human Services has offered counseling for the victims of the crash and help in finding temporary housing.
A lawyer for the Jacoby family, Kay Cross, of Washington, declined to comment yesterday on the case.
A preliminary report on the accident, unlikely to have many new details, is expected to be released today by the National Transportation Safety Board. Officials there said the full investigation will take many months. Meanwhile, questions linger over the cause of the accident.
Itzhak Jacoby, 53, a director of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, which trains military doctors, was a seasoned pilot, a veteran of more than two decades of flying who had taught other pilots and written academic papers on flight safety.
He and Gail Jacoby, 50, an administrator at the National Institute on Aging, along with their teenage daughter, had been returning from a visit with an older daughter, Orit Jacoby, in New York.
Jacoby's single-engine Beech Bonanza took off from New Jersey's Linden Airport in the morning and was headed for Dulles International Airport, a change of plans after weather conditions were deemed too hazardous at Montgomery County Airpark in Gaithersburg.
A transcript of a radio conversation between Jacoby and air traffic controllers, released by the NTSB, suggests the Beech had been heading the wrong way before it dropped out of the sky about 10:55 a.m. One minute into the flight, Jacoby spoke of problems and speculated that he might have a malfunctioning gyroscope, a device that tells pilots whether their plane is flying level.
Officials at Linden Airport say the staff there warned Jacoby not to fly.
"Various personnel had suggested to Jacoby that he should wait" because of rain and fog that made for a low ceiling and dangerous flying conditions, said Linden Airport director Paul Dudley. He noted that airport officials had no legal authority to prevent Jacoby from flying.
In Newark, city workers demolished the factory building the plane had destroyed and several residential structures heavily damaged by the accident.
The two most seriously injured people remain in critical condition at University Hospital in Newark, according to officials there.