Bob Buckley for The Examiner: A Life of Service, a Day of Justice

November 30, 2020

Bob Buckley, partner at White, Graham, Buckley & Carr, is a regular columnist for The Examiner of East Jackson County. In his latest column, Buckley fondly recalls a former client, who recently passed, who he represented after being injured in a helicopter crash.

The article, A Life of Service, a Day of Justice, was published in the Nov. 27 edition of The Examiner. An excerpt from the article is below.

On May 27, 1993, a LifeFlight helicopter left Kansas City for Bethany, Missouri to bring a passenger back to Saint Luke’s Hospital. James Barnett was the pilot. Phil Hedrick was the paramedic, and Sheila Roth was the flight nurse.

I had the privilege of representing Sheila and her husband, Bob, in a case filed 10 years later. I have never met a more courageous and inspirational person than Sheila Roth.

Sheila graduated from Van Horn High School in 1973. All she ever wanted to do was to be a nurse. Nurses are the heroes of our time because of what they do daily. Sheila began her heroic efforts in 1976 in the emergency room at Research Medical Center, where she worked as a nurse until 1992. She loved the excitement and rewards of emergency medicine and dedicated her life to helping people in their times of greatest need. Her husband, Bob, was a paramedic, which led him to the emergency room at Research one day when he met Sheila.

On that day in May 1993, the helicopter arrived in Bethany to pick up Sherry Letz, who was seriously injured in a motor vehicle accident and needed lifesaving care of doctors and nurses in Kansas City. On the return flight, they were near Cameron when Sheila heard a loud pop. Sheila was out of her seat attending to the patient, and Phil knew that a crash was about to occur. He undoubtedly saved Sheila’s life by throwing her back into her seat seconds before the crash. His sacrificial efforts probably led to more serious injuries to himself. The crash occurred in a field. It took 90 minutes for emergency crews to get to the scene of the crash.

The pilot and the passenger both died in the crash. Sheila suffered an injury to her kidney and severely injured her spine. The second helicopter taking Phil to Kansas City stopped at Liberty Hospital because Phil had suffered cardiac arrest and needed emergent care. Unfortunately, he suffered significant brain injury; he also suffered a stroke in the emergency room, resulting in severe left-sided deficit. Sheila’s injuries caused her to lose a kidney and to be paralyzed from the waist down.

Four lawsuits were filed after the investigation determined that there was a significant defect in the engine of the helicopter, which was produced by a French manufacturer. The crash in 1993 was not the first failure of this engine as it had crashed several times in different parts of the world. The families of James Barnett and Sherry Letz filed wrongful death cases, and Phil Hedrick and Sheila filed personal injury cases. The Letz case was the first case tried and resulted in a verdict of $70 million. A $350 million verdict was rendered in the Barnett case. If you question why punitive damages should be rendered against manufacturers of products that show a conscious disregard for the safety of others, read the appellate decision in Letz v. Turbomeca. The evidence is compelling.