A Delaware County judge has thrown out first-degree manslaughter charges against Brent Caldwell for the second time this year.
District Judge Robert Haney said Tuesday there was not enough evidence to show that Caldwell did anything illegal to cause the single-engine plane to stall and plunge into Grand Lake.
"There is not enough evidence submitted by the state to warrant the re-filing of charges in this case," Haney said.
Caldwell, 31, of Jay, was piloting a Bellanca Viking aircraft in December of last year when the plane crashed in Drowning Creek near Zena. Caldwell survived the crash, but three passengers drowned as they were trapped beneath the plane.
The district attorney's office filed manslaughter charges against Caldwell for the deaths of Mariano Carlos Casas, 15, of Pryor; Eduardo Ortiz Robles, 20, and Campos Gonzalez, 33, both of Mexico.
In May, the charges were dropped against Caldwell after District Judge Robert Haney determined that there was no evidence that any criminal action was committed by Caldwell.
The district attorney's office said they do not plan to appeal the judge's decision.
"Of course my office, with all due respect to the court, completely disagrees with his decision," Assistant District Attorney Bryce Lair said. "But, at some point, 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."
According to Federal Aviation Administration records, Caldwell purchased the plane nine months prior to the accident from a certified flight instructor. The previous owner said he had instructed Caldwell in the aircraft for approximately 10 hours.
Records also show that Caldwell refused to submit a completed Pilot Operator Aircraft Accident Report Form and his pilot logbook for examination. He told authorities he had not logged a flight in five months.
In August, the district attorney's office announced that they would re-file charges in the case against Caldwell in light of a report issued by the National Transportation Safety Board.
The report stated that “the examination of the airplane revealed no pre-impact anomalies,” suggesting that nothing was structurally wrong with the plane to cause the engine to fail.
The report also listed “pilot error” as a contributing factor.
Winston Conner, Caldwell's attorney, said last week that he anticipated the charges would be dropped a second time.
“They have no evidence to prove any wrong-doing by my client,” Conner said.
Authorities at the scene reported the smell of alcohol existed at the crash site. However, a toxicology report from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation indicated that the only thing found in Caldwell's system was an anti-depressant.