Criminal Charges Dropped In Fatal Crash

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An Alaska judge has dismissed manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide charges against a pilot whose floatplane crashed into a lake in 2005, killing a teenager from South Africa. Mark Schroeder, 17, survived the crash but drowned. Pilot Kurt Steenehjem and three other passengers aboard the four-place Maule made it to an ice floe and were rescued. Schroeder sat in the baggage area of the airplane and was the only one not wearing a seat belt and life vest. According to The Anchorage Daily News, it’s believed to have been the first case in which a grand jury has accepted criminal charges against a pilot for a crash in Alaska, but Superior Court Judge ruled that prosecutors gave incorrect evidence to the jury and then failed to give proper guidance of the relevance of other evidence, creating the impression that Steenehjem was “a scofflaw.” The FAA issued an emergency revocation of Steenehjem’s pilot certificate after the crash, citing numerous safety violations on the flight, factors the dead teen’s mother Lesley Schroeder McLean said should have been recognized by the court. McLean and her husband Chris, a former Alaskan bush pilot, are long-time associates of Steenehjem and owned the accident airplane, which Steenehjem used in his tour business. Her son was helping Steenehjem for the summer. McLean lobbied hard to get case prosecuted and said she was disappointed it was dissolved by “technicalities and legal speak.” She said that if her son had been a passenger in a chauffeur-driven car, it’s her opinion that criminal charges would have been laid against the driver.