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Three years later, settlement of compensation for families of lost soldiers in helicopter crash winds on

Posted: Monday, February 27, 2023. 9:01 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: Today marked a sombre anniversary for the Belize Defence Force (BDF) as it remembered the four men who went down in a Bell Huey helicopter off the Western Lagoon near Gales Point, Belize District, on a mission to mop up after a major drug bust three years ago.

Last week a memorial service was held at the Williamson Hangar at the BDF Air Wing across from the International Airport to remember Major Radford Baizar, Major Adran Ramirez, Corporal Yassir Mendez and Lance Corporal Reynaldo Choco. In a public notice, the Force wrote, “They may be gone but their memory and legacy live forever.”

But memory and legacy are not a living and are not justice, according to the attorney for the families of Corporal Mendez and Lance Corporal Choco, Audrey Matura, who says that the quantum of compensation continues to be undetermined and fought over even as the State accepted fault.

In an interview today she told us that the matter is under mediation and so she could not disclose all that is being negotiated, but she set out her clients’ position. She began by noting that the Government, based on the multiple reports after the crash from the Honduran and Mexican militaries that ascribed fault to pilot error, initially tried to argue after the suit was filed two years ago that the estates of Major Baizar and Major Ramirez should be sued, but that defence was dropped. The court then ordered mediation in relation to compensation.

Compensation for accidental deaths in Belize is governed by the Torts Act and Administration of Estates Act. While she credits the Government with deciding not to fight the claim all the way, she states, “they accepted liability with the view, however, to fight against us for every penny and that is most unfortunate; that part, to me, is in bad faith.”

What are the families entitled to, and what will they get? As Matura explains, only direct dependents or beneficiaries can sue under the Torts Act – spouses, children, dependent parents and so on. The formula set by the court includes the calculation of lost earnings and who would have depended on the deceased: “how long they would have lived, how much they would have made and who the dependents are.” Corporal Mendez left behind a wife and two school-age children, both younger than ten years of age; Corporal Choco was married and also partially supported his parents. Per Matura, one of the widows is a professional and the other is a stay-at-home mother.

As the men died intestate – that is, without a will – the Administration of Estates Act does not apply and so the compensation entirely depends on the Government. As a routine part of the case, Matura said she requested disclosure of the men’s salaries in order to establish the starting point for compensation which was erroneously treated as a preliminary issue. She had hoped that a settlement could be announced this week, but that has so far not materialized.

As for the final payment, Matura argued that it should be lump sum and not in installments and include legal costs: “Like I’ve always said, these guys didn’t die in installments; they died on the spot. The needs of these families don’t happen in installments; it is immediate. Your breadwinner has left you and you are short of all that emotional comfort which they don’t compensate for.” She took the cases on contingency, meaning of course that she gets paid when the families do.

As for how the families are presently coping, Matura says that inevitably, the stay-at-home mother has had to leave the household to work. Each of the four families received what is referred to as a “death-in-harness” payment of less than $100,000. There is also emotional trauma, as Matura quoted one of the widows as saying her lost partner was her life partner and she would never meet another like him – a loss no money can compensate.

As for the initial $100,000 offer by then-Minister of National Security and Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte made in July 2020, the families of the pilots reportedly accepted that payment and did not sue, but Matura’s clients had taken legal advice and when they asked if compensation was in addition to that offer, they were told it was a one-time, take-it-or-leave-it offer and they declined it.

Matura called on the BDF and the State to conclude the matter and stop prolonging the agony and dread these families face around this time of year.


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