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Tue, Aug 15, 2000
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Jet repair company sentenced to $11 million fine and restitution

MIAMI — A defunct jet repair company that pleaded poverty was ordered Monday to pay $11 million in fines and restitution for hazardous waste violations in the fiery ValuJet crash that killed 110 people in 1996.

SabreTech was the nation's first aviation company to be convicted of criminal charges growing out of a commercial jet crash. Its parent, Sabreliner Corp., has been paying its legal bills and plans to appeal.

"This is a broke company,'' said defense attorney Martin Raskin. "Quite frankly, we believe this is an uncollectible award.''

Carole Rietz, whose son Howard, a 21-year-old architecture student, died in the crash, anguished after the hearing over whether the sentence helped her before saying no and said she thought the punishment was "very low.''

"We need to send a very strong message that hazardous material does not belong in passenger planes,'' said Rietz, who traveled from suburban Nashville, Tenn., to attend the trial and sentencing and served as a spokesman of the families of victims.

SabreTech, ValuJet's maintenance contractor, was convicted of failing to train its jet repair crews in the handling of hazardous waste. Explosive-tipped oxygen generators were blamed in a cargo fire that caused the crash shortly after takeoff on a Miami-Atlanta flight.

After the crash, ValuJet merged with the Orlando-based carrier AirTran Airways, and it flies under the name AirTran.

The case revolved around 144 oxygen generators removed by SabreTech from other ValuJet planes. The canisters are usually installed over seats to supply oxygen to masks that drop when a passenger cabin loses pressure.

Five cartons of the generators, which resemble shaving cream cans, were delivered to the ill-fated flight even though ValuJet was not allowed to carry hazardous cargo.

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