BRENTWOOD — Eleven years ago, Ellen Dixon lost her husband, David, in a helicopter crash at a Livermore air show.

Today, Dixon, 52, might lose the home she bought with her husband as a result of a recent court decision that has culminated in years of litigation along with physical and emotional anguish.

The latest development stems from a trial court decision that found the city of Livermore liable for negligence along with the organizations overseeing the air show.

However, the city of Livermores insurance company, AIG Aviation, Inc. — which was funding the citys defense — appealed and won. Now thecompany is demanding Dixon pay the cost of its appeal, a $41,000 bill that may force Dixon out of her Buckskin Terrace home that she bought with her husband 20 years ago.

I feel like Ive been blessed to stay in California, to stay in this house that David and I bought, Dixon said.

The fateful day was Sept. 10, 1995, when David and Ellen Dixon attended a city-sponsored air show that featured a five-minute helicopter ride for sightseers. Three minutes into it, the helicopter ran out of gas and plummeted to the ground, critically injuring Dixon and the pilot, and killing her husband of 11 years.

The pilot said he couldnt remember that day, she lamented. I remember everything.

While mourning her husbands death and undergoing nearly two dozen surgeries, Dixon won an $11 million judgment against the pilot, Rob Crist, and Tri-Valley Helicopters. The judge also found the city of Livermore liable as part of a separate $6.1 million judgment.

However, Tri-Valley Helicopters had merely $1 million in insurance coverage. When all was said and done, Dixon saw little of what was awarded to her. Now the $41,000 that AIG Aviation is requesting will make her broke and could send her packing.

I cant go to the bank with a newspaper article that says I won $11 million and I want my money,'" she said. It doesnt work that way.

The thought of losing her home as a result of a crash that claimed her husband has once again traumatized her.

I just dont understand how they can do this, she said. I just dont know what they want from me.

Dixon first met her husband in 1984 when they were working for the former Luckys grocery store chain, but at separate stores.

We thought it was funny that I worked in Danville and lived in Pleasanton and he worked in Pleasanton and lived in Danville, she said. We just talked and it took him a while (to ask me out). On Christmas Eve, he came in with a rose and a candy cane.

Their first date was pizza and a movie, and it was at that point that David told his friends that he would marry her.

He was very funny, so funny, she recalled. He had a wonderful sense of humor. He was very determined to have a good life. He was a great provider and he wanted to be sure I didnt worry about anything. He wanted to take care of everything.

After the crash, Dixon spent about eight months in the hospital. She has undergone 23 surgeries and years of physical therapy. She regularly endures pain in her knees, legs and back. And she has memory problems.

My feet and legs were crushed and my back was fractured, she said. There was barely enough left to put me back together.

The litigious battles have been as painful as her physical recovery. Dixon and her attorney, Terry OReilly, emphatically maintain that the city is liable.

For me it was sponsored by the city — it was city-run, she said. The city had a fueling station there and the helicopter ran out of gas.

OReilly is livid, and claims that court costs are usually not pursued at the appellate level when a lower courts decision is overturned. He said that Dixon needs the $41,000 a lot more than AIG Aviation.

Ralph LaMontagne, attorney for AIG Aviation, said the winner of court cases routinely seeks compensation, and that his client is merely following protocol.

Its a rule of law that when a party loses a case, that person is liable for costs, he said. It was not a meritorious lawsuit. The city of Livermore had absolutely nothing to do with the helicopter crash except that the flight took place at an air show it was sponsoring.

For Dixon, constant legal melees exacerbate harrowing memories.

I just want to move on, she said. 

Dixons husband was cremated and the urn with his ashes sat next to her bed until the five-year anniversary of the incident. That was when she released his ashes at Golden Gate Seminary.

It was because he wasnt coming back, she said while weeping. I had to move forward.

Dixon lives with her adult son, Joe, from her first marriage. She has undertaken various jobs that she can physically handle, such as baby-sitting. She values her friendships and loves hosting and baking for people. She cherishes her beloved miniature doxie, Niki, which she got shortly after her release from the hospital.

She sleeps under the covers with me, Dixon said. She always has to be touching me.

And her faith in God has grown as a source of comfort and guidance.

I read my Bible in the morning. It just makes me know that God is watching out for me, that when things happen, he makes good out of bad, she said.

But, she said of the latest legal development, This is it. The house is it.

Staff writer Brian Foley can be reached at (925) 416-4818 and bfoley@trivalleyherald.com.