City Employee’s Family Sues Ground Services Company Over Airport Death

26 Dec, 2023 Liz Carey


Austin, TX ( – The family of an Austin city employee killed in an accident at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is suing a ground services company for “gross negligence.”

On Oct. 31, Austin aviation department employee Michael Wills, 68, was hit by a fuel truck after a confrontation with the driver of the truck for being in an area of the airport he wasn’t supposed to be in. He was declared dead at the scene.

Two of Wills adult children have filed suit against Menzies Aviation and the driver of the truck citing gross negligent acts leading to Wills death. While the company is one of a dozen ground services companies that work at the airport, the Menzies Aviation logo appeared in pictures on the side of the truck near where the accident occurred that were later published by the American Statesman newspaper.

Officials said the cause of the unclear. The Austin Police Department determined the death was accidental. The findings are part of the ongoing investigation by OSHA into the workplace death.

In December however, the Statesman filed a Texas Public Information Act request for the full police report. That request is still pending.

According to the lawsuit, while waiting for an incoming aircraft to arrive so he could begin refueling, the driver of the truck had staged the fuel storage truck in an area that was “unauthorized and unsafe.” The airport, owned by the city of Austin, has regulation and rules on where vehicles can be when aircraft are making movements, including on taxiways, runways, and other areas.

Sam Haynes, an airport spokesperson, declined to tell the Statesman newspaper where the fuel truck was located, citing the pending investigation.

But according to the lawsuit, Wills asked the driver of the fuel truck to move to a safe area. But the driver became “angry and irritated,” the lawsuit said. Before Wills, who was wearing safety gear, including a reflective safety vest, could return to his Chevrolet pickup, the fuel truck’s driver “moved his vehicle at an unsafe rate of speed” and hit Wills, pinning him between the fuel vehicle’s wheels and the bed of Wills pickup truck.

According to the lawsuit, instead of stopping the driver continued to drive forward, crushing Wills further. The lawsuit alleges the driver did so “with full knowledge that the fuel truck did not have the radius to be able to easily separate from the Chevrolet.”

Shortly thereafter nearby workers tried to get help for the injured employee.

“Somebody got hit by the fuel truck. He’s got injuries real bad. I need EMS ASAP,” a recording of the 911 call said.

Wills was pronounced dead at the scene shortly after.

The lawsuit alleges that Menzies Aviation failed to train its employees properly, including the driver, and failed to implement a comprehensive safety plan.

"Defendants were subjectively aware of the risk involved, but nevertheless proceeded with conscious indifference to the right, safety and welfare of others, including Decedent Michael Wills," the lawsuit states.

Representatives for Menzies Aviation declined to comment on the lawsuit, or whether the driver remained employed, citing the pending litigation.

It was the second employee fatality at the airport this year.

In April, an American Airlines employee was killed in a tarmac incident, authorities said.

Airline officials said the employee was injured outside the terminal where aircraft park. The employee “was operating a ground service vehicle that struck a jet bridge,” Austin Police Department spokesperson Destiny Silva said at the time. Austin-Travis County EMS declared the employee was dead at the scene.

"Our thoughts are with this employee and all those impacted by today's tragic event," the airport said.

American Airlines offered its condolences at the time.

"We are devastated by the accident involving a team member at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS)," the airline said in a statement. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and our local team members. We are focused on ensuring that all involved have the support they need during this difficult time."

Later, an American Airlines investigator suggested the death was a suicide, a suggestion later dismissed by police. Michael Ingraham, 37, was driving a “tug” vehicle that tows planes on the tarmac when it crashed into the jet bridge. Lynn Fast, the AA investigator cited a Facebook post and other evidence that led them to believe Ingraham had used the tug to kill themselves.

Law enforcement and medical officials pushed back on Fast’s assumption, later declaring the Ingraham’s death accidental.

One witness told police that the tug Ingraham was operating had a history of malfunctioning, and when the accident happened, the tug “accelerated faster than normal and then veered to the right.”

Officers also received tips that the tug Ingraham was operating have been “marked out of service for failed brakes,” police reports indicate.

Since the finding, Ingraham’s father has sued American Airlines for negligence. He is asking for  payment of his own medical expenses, payment for Ingraham’s funeral and burial, and $1 million in monetary relief.

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    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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