February 4, 1995 in Nation/World

Fairchild Victims File Claims $15 Million In Damages Sought From Air Force After Shooting Rampage

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Tags:suits

Damages of $15 million are sought in the first three claims filed against the U.S. government over last summer’s shooting spree at Fairchild Air Force Base.

Other claims are being drafted or considered by some of the 22 people wounded and the survivors of four people killed in the June 20 rampage.

If the claims are rejected, the federal government likely will face multimillion-dollar lawsuits.

The first claims were filed by Michelle Sigman, who was shot twice in the back by discharged airman Dean Mellberg.

The 26-year-old Tacoma woman, who was nearly six months pregnant, lost her unborn child six days later.

The deranged gunman was fatally shot outside the hospital after he fired dozens of rounds from his MAK-90 military assault rifle.

Sigman seeks $5 million in damages. Her claim doesn’t elaborate on alleged governmental negligence or carelessness.

Those details are expected to be spelled out in Sigman’s suit, which could be filed before the first-year anniversary of the shooting.

“We will file suit if the claim is rejected,” her attorney, Mark Vovos, of Spokane, said Friday.

Sigman also filed companion claims, for $5 million each, on behalf of her stillborn infant and her 6-year-old son, James, who witnessed the shooting but wasn’t wounded.

“He witnessed a lot of things a little kid should never see,” Vovos said.

“His mother shielded him with her body and probably saved his life, but he’s still a pretty messed up little kid over this.”

The tort claims were filed with the Department of the Air Force, the U.S. Department of Defense and the Justice Department.

They were forwarded recently to the U.S. attorney’s office in Spokane. Lawsuits can be filed six months after the filing of a claim that is rejected.

“I anticipate that these claims will be rejected and we’ll then be in the position of defending the actions of the governmental agencies,” U.S. Attorney Jim Connelly said Friday.

Vovos hasn’t drafted Sigman’s lawsuit, but said her injuries and damages came about because of negligence or carelessness by the U.S. government and the Air Force. In particular, Vovos said, he will allege the Air Force was negligent in dealing with Mellberg.

“He was shipped from base to base before he was finally discharged,” Vovos said.

Sigman’s claim is accompanied by a Spokesman-Review article that said the Air Force missed several chances to rehabilitate Mellberg and avert the tragedy.

Air Force commanders ignored their own psychiatrists’ repeated warnings that Mellberg suffered serious psychological problems.

Mental health experts recommended at least four times that Mellberg be discharged for psychological problems, the news article said. The article was based upon an extensive review of Mellberg’s military and medical records.

Vovos said the suit also will allege that the Air Force didn’t provide adequate security at the base hospital.

The hospital, which serves military personnel, their dependents and retirees, is outside the base perimeter fence.

“You could have an Iraqi battalion walk into that hospital,” Vovos said. “There is no security, and that’s why this tragedy happened.”


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