Judge Declines To Charge Pilot in Fatal Crash

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Prosecutors don't have a case to charge pilot Brent Caldwell with first-degree manslaughter for the three deaths in a crash last December, a judge in Delaware ruled on Tuesday. Caldwell was flying a high-performance 300-hp Bellanca 17-30A, which he had bought about nine months earlier, according to the NTSB's final report, when the engine died "for undetermined reasons." The NTSB said Caldwell made an "improper decision" to extend the landing gear before ditching into a lake. The airplane came to rest inverted and Caldwell escaped, but his three passengers drowned. Police said they smelled alcohol on Caldwell's breath and found open containers of alcohol in the airplane, but a blood sample tested negative for alcohol. The NTSB also said the pilot did not hold any FAA pilot or medical certificates. District Court judge Robert Haney dismissed charges against Caldwell in May, saying prosecutors did not show he had done anything illegal to cause the plane to stall and crash. This week, after prosecutors again tried to press the case, Haney said he was not convinced there were any grounds to re-file.

"We have to be realistic and acknowledge the fact that this judge does not believe that what Mr. Caldwell is accused of doing is a crime and that regardless of how we procedurally attack this case we will not be able to get it to trial," assistant DA Bryce Lair told KOTV News. Mariano Carlos, 15, Everado Robles, 20, and Eulalio Gonzalez Campos, 33, died in the crash.