Family files lawsuit over deadly balloon crash in New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The family of a passenger on a hot air balloon that crashed and killed five people in Albuquerque in June is suing the estate of the deceased pilot and the companies that operated the commercial balloon.

The estate of Martin Martinez, 62, filed a lawsuit in state district court last week against Hot Air Balloonatics LLC, Sventato LLC, and the estate of the pilot, Nicholas Meleski. The suit accuses Meleski, who had drugs in his system, of piloting the balloon in a reckless manner.

Martinez’s family is seeking unspecified monetary, punitive and other damages.

A Federal Aviation Administration report shows 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 crash.

According to the lawsuit, Meleski was an employee of Hot Air Balloonatics and one of the organizers of Sventato, which owned the balloon that crashed June 26. The balloon struck a power line and the basket toppled about 100 feet (30 meters) onto a busy street.

Hot Air Balloonatics declined to comment on the lawsuit.

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. 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.

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