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The family of a passenger on a hot air balloon that crashed and killed five people on Albuquerque’s West Side in June has filed a lawsuit against the estate of the deceased pilot, who had drugs in his system, and the companies that operated the commercial balloon.
The estate of Martin Andrew Martinez, 62, brought the case against Hot Air Balloonatics LLC, Sventato LLC, and the estate of the deceased pilot, Nicholas Meleski. Filed last week in 2nd Judicial District Court, the suit accuses Meleski of piloting the balloon in a reckless manner, and is seeking unspecified monetary, punitive and other damages.
The lawsuit says that Meleski was an employee of Hot Air Balloonatics and one of the organizers of Sventato – an Italian word meaning rash, reckless or scatterbrained – which owned the Cameron Balloons US O-120 aircraft that crashed near Central and Unser on June 26. The balloon struck a power line, separating the envelope from the basket, which toppled about 100 feet onto the busy street and killed all five people on board, according to preliminary crash reports.
Kari Biernacki is the registered agent of Hot Air Balloonatics. A person who answered the phone for the business Monday said “she’s very upset and doesn’t have anything to say.”
Meleski and Mona Lamont are listed as the organizers of Sventato, according to the Secretary of State’s website.
Court records show Martinez’s heirs are his four sons: Martin Anthony, Mark, Marcus and Manuel. Dathan Weems, an attorney for the estate, could not be reached for comment on Monday.
The court filing marks the first lawsuit brought in connection with the balloon crash, which was the deadliest such crash in the history of New Mexico, a state renowned for its ballooning and home to one of the world’s premier balloon festivals, which starts this weekend.
Martinez was a former Albuquerque police officer who was working as an officer for Albuquerque Public Schools. The suit is seeking compensation not only for his lost earning potential, but also for emotional suffering during his final moments on the doomed balloon.
Also killed in the crash were Martinez’s wife, Mary Martinez, 59; Georgia O’Keeffe Elementary School assistant principal Susan Montoya, 65; and her husband, John Montoya, 61. Teachers and co-workers had chipped in to purchase the balloon ride for Susan Montoya as a going-away gift because she planned to transfer to another school.
A Federal Aviation Administration report made public last week says that Meleski, 62, had marijuana and cocaine in his blood and urine. The National Transportation Safety Board hasn’t ruled on the cause of the June 26 crash.
Meleski’s family said in a statement Thursday that it wouldn’t be commenting on the crash. But, earlier in the week, in response to the toxicology report, it issued a statement.
“Like you, we have just received the report and we are reviewing the information contained in the report to gain an understanding of the findings,” the Meleski family said in a statement. “We are awaiting the full results of the ongoing investigation into the accident.”