Families of four members of Jenni Rivera's entourage who were killed when the singer's plane crashed last month in Mexico have filed a lawsuit against the jet's owners and Rivera's Encino-based company.
The lawsuit claims the pilots flying the LearJet were not licensed to operate the plane and the jet was poorly maintained.
The lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court Thursday on behalf of four passengers who died in the Dec. 9 crash: Arturo Rivera, her public relations aide; Jorge Vasquez, her hairstylist; Jacobo Yebale, her makeup artist; and her attorney Mario Pacheco.
"This plane literally fell out of the sky in a nose dive," said Paul Kiesel, attorney for the four families, at a press conference in downtown Los Angeles.
"This is intended to punish the actors for what occurred here," he added.
Vasquez, Yebale, Pacheco, Arturo Rivera and Jenni Rivera died last month when the jet crashed in northern Mexico about 15 minutes after departing Monterrey, Mexico. Also killed were pilots Miguel Perez Soto and Alejandro Torres.
The two-engine turbojet plunged almost vertically from more than 28,000 feet and hit the ground in a nose dive at a speed that may have exceeded 600 miles per hour, Mexican transportation officials said.
Mexican authorities and the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash.
The lawsuit names the plane's owners, Starwood Management Group and Rodatz Financial Group, as well as its previous owners, McOCO Inc. The current and previous owners "negligently and carelessly" leased a plane that was "in dangerous and defective condition," the suit alleges. The suit points out that the 1969 vintage Learjet LJ25 was previously damaged in a 2005 incident.
The suit also names Rivera Enterprises because it's believed the late singer's company may have played a role in chartering the plane, Kiesel said.
Additionally, pilot Soto, 78, didn't have a license to fly above 18,000 feet, the suit alleges. The co-pilot, Torres, 20, wasn't qualified to fly a LearJet 25, according to the suit. Neither man was permitted to fly passengers for hire, said Kiesel.
Starwood Management Group and McOCO could not be reached for comment.
The case was filed in the United States rather than Mexico for a variety of reasons, including the fact that the flight is believed to have originated from Van Nuys Airport.
Mark Schmaltz, a Van Nuys-based aviation expert who appeared with Kiesel at the press conference, said he believed there were a handful of incidents that could have brought the plane down. The cabin may have lost cabin pressure, for instance.
"There are other accidents that happened in the last 30-40 years that have had similar characteristics," Schmaltz told reporters.
Schmaltz declined to comment on what the passengers may have experienced, and if they lost consciousness as the plane plummeted.
"I would rather not speculate what those last few moments would have been like," Schmaltz said.
Rivera was known in Mexico and the United States as "La Diva de la Banda," a singer who had sold more than 15 million records of banda music. Born and raised in Long Beach, Rivera was one of the biggest stars of the Mexican regional style known as grupero music, which is influenced by the norte o, cumbia and ranchero styles.
The home of Rivera's mother in Lakewood, where numerous press conferences were held in the days following the plane crash, was quiet Thursday. No one answered the door and no cars were parked in the driveway, near the remains of a memorial of flowers, photos and other mementos set up by fans that appeared to be in the process of being cleaned up, with many items in a nearby trash can.
The family did not immediately respond to an email sent Thursday seeking comment about the lawsuit.
Staff Writer Phillip Zonkel contributed to this report