Seeking relief

Family of man killed by a crop-duster files wrongful death suit

Willie Suarez was struck and killed by a crop-dusting plane like this one in May 2013.

Willie Suarez was struck and killed by a crop-dusting plane like this one in May 2013.

Photo by thinkstock

About a year and a half ago, 66-year-old Willie Suarez left his home state of Texas—and his wife and daughter—on business in Butte County. Suarez worked for Arrow Asphalt and he’d been hired to repave the landing strip at Williams Ag Services, a crop-dusting business in Biggs. But while he was working on the tarmac, a small plane came in for a landing and, the pilot apparently not seeing Suarez, struck him with a propeller, killing him instantly.

“His family misses him. His daughter misses her father; his widow misses her husband,” said Stewart Galbraith, a Chico attorney who’s representing the family in its lawsuit against Williams Ag Services. “It’s a difficult situation. [Plus], financially he was the breadwinner.”

Galbraith, who is working on the case along with fellow Penney & Associates attorney Robert Brannen, filed a wrongful death complaint with Butte County Superior Court last month alleging general negligence and premises liability on the part of Williams Ag Services. He’s representing Suarez’s daughter, 17-year-old Alexis Suarez; his widow, LaKeitha Hoskins; and sister, Linda Suarez. While nothing can ease the pain of losing a loved one, he said he hopes to win a settlement that will help ease the family’s financial strain.

“We’re looking for what’s fair and reasonable. I have no specific number in mind,” Galbraith said by phone. “It’ll depend on how people testify, and how the evidence comes in.”

The complaint explains the circumstances of Suarez’s death and the reasons for alleging Williams Ag Services is responsible.

According to the complaint, Suarez was working as a laborer for Arrow Asphalt Paving Co. in May 2013. His company was hired to repair and pave portions of the airstrip owned by Williams Ag Services and on the morning of May 9, Suarez was doing just that.

“Williams [Ag Services] chose to keep the airstrip active during the ground repair work with its aircraft using the airstrip throughout that day for takeoffs, landings, and taxiing,” the complaint reads. “As a legal result of its negligent acts and omissions, during the afternoon of May 9, 2013, an aircraft owned and operated by Williams [Ag Services] collided with [Suarez] while he was working on the subject airstrip, causing his instantaneous death.”

The Enterprise-Record covered the incident at the time and better explains the circumstances, as described by now-Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea. “The design of the crop-dusting plane puts its nose at an upward angle when it’s on the ground,” a story on May 11 reads. “That requires the pilot to zig-zag down the runway to be able to see ahead, Honea said. As the unidentified pilot was making a sweeping S-turn, the propeller hit Suarez …”

The E-R and KCRA both reported that family had told detectives Suarez was severely hearing impaired, which would limit his ability to hear the plane coming. Galbraith could not confirm this.

He said that cases like these typically last a few months. A phone message left with Williams Ag Services for comment was not returned by press time.

“I’ve worked on other wrongful death cases, and every case is unique,” Galbraith said. “This one is very unique. How often does an airplane hit a pedestrian?”