Man imprisoned for ‘Iron 44’ tragedy asks for ‘compassionate release’

SALEM, Ore. – A man who is locked away in federal prison for his part in one of the deadliest aviation crashes in firefighting history is asking for a “compassionate release” amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In August of 2008, a Sikorsky helicopter operated by Carson Helicopters took off from the front lines of the Iron 44 Fire burning in the Trinity Alps wilderness. The helicopter with 13 people on board was airborne for less than a minute before it came crashing down to the forest below. Nine people died in the incident and four others suffered serious injuries.

In 2010, the NTSB found intentional wrongdoing by Carson, with the Grants Pass company deliberately underestimating the weight of its Sikorsky by more than a thousand pounds.

Years later, in June of 2015, former Carson vice president Steven Metheny was sentenced to over 12 years in prison for falsifying documents that led to the crash.

After sentencing, Metheny argued he didn’t understand the nature of his plea and sentencing, but that was dismissed by the U.S. District Court along with an argument that his counsel was ineffective.

In another recent attempt to have his sentence reduced, Metheny filed a motion requesting “compassionate release” due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Court documents cited Metheny’s alleged risk factors like obesity and hypertension.

Despite these arguments, the courts denied Metheny’s initial request, saying his circumstances weren’t “extraordinary” or “compelling” enough to warrant a “rare” compassionate release from Lompoc Prison in California.

On November 6, 2020, Metheny’s attorney once again tried to argue for compassionate release, again citing obesity and hypertension as COVID-19 risk factors. His attorney also claimed that “fear” caused while incarcerated during the pandemic makes serving time “laborious” enough to warrant an early release. Lompoc Prison’s coronavirus procedures were also called into question.

The government has not yet replied to the latest motion for compassionate release.

The next oral arguments in Metheny’s case are scheduled to take place on November 13, 2020.

The following people died in the 2008 crash: Shawn Blazer, Steven Renno, Scott Charlson, Matt Hammer, Edrik Gomez, Bryan Rich, Jim Ramage, Roark Schwanenberg, and David Steele.

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