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Lagging litigation upsets Flight 3407 kin Airline faulted for reluctance to give information relevant to Clarence Center crash that killed 50

Some of the families who lost loved ones in the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 are upset with the slow movement of litigation over the tragedy in U.S. District Court.

District Judge William M. Skretny met Wednesday afternoon with attorneys for the airline and for 17 families who have filed federal lawsuits relating to the Clarence Center crash that killed 50 people.

But there will be no movement in the cases until at least Nov. 18, when the judge will meet with the attorneys again for a status conference.

"It seems like the airline doesn't want to admit anything. They want extensions and extensions, and we want answers," said Robin Tolsma, whose husband, Darren, died in the Feb. 12 crash.

"To us, it seems like [the airline] is stonewalling," said Jennifer West, whose husband, Ernest, was also killed. "They don't want to provide any information about what happened."

"We want answers," Tolsma said. "Neither of us should have to be standing here with pictures of our husbands dangling around our necks."

Two of the attorneys who represent families of the victims -- Terrence M. Connors and Hugh M. Russ III -- said attorneys for Colgan Air, which operated the fatal flight, seem reluctant to let the case move forward.

"There are some very serious questions that have been raised about this crash, most recently about Colgan's policies on pilots trying to take sick time," Russ said. "The [National Transportation Safety Board] has done a lot of investigation on what happened in the cockpit, but we believe that what happened in Colgan's boardroom may be equally important."

The Buffalo News reported Sunday that a number of pilots at Colgan said that they felt pressured by the airline to fly even if they are sick and that they were threatened with punishment if they repeatedly call in sick.

Federal investigators have found that the co-pilot on Flight 3407, Rebecca L. Shaw, was tired and sick with a cold on the night the twin-engine commuter plane crashed in Clarence Center.

Attorneys for Colgan and other defendants in the case told Skretny that they are not stonewalling and that they have preserved all evidence relative to the crash. They said much information about the case is already publicly available from federal agencies.

Officials at Colgan and its parent company, Pinnacle Airlines, deny that there is anything wrong with their policies on sick time for pilots.

In addition to the 17 cases pending in Buffalo's federal court, there are six cases pending in other federal courts, Connors said.

So far, about half the families who lost loved ones in the crash have not filed lawsuits.

e-mail: dherbeck@buffnews.com

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