Zipporah Kuria lost her father, Joseph Kuria, in a flight to Nairobi that killed 157 people in 2019.
Life is different now without her father. Holidays, graduations and other major life events aren’t the same.
“Everything in life that is supposed to bring us joy is tainted by grief,” she said.
Kuria traveled from London to join about a dozen families at an arraignment Jan. 26 in Fort Worth. They testified in front of a federal judge about the loved ones they lost in two Boeing 737 MAX crashes that killed a total of 346 people in 2017 and 2019.
Boeing pleaded not guilty to charges of fraud conspiracy.
Judge Reed O’Connor of the U.S. District Court of Northern Texas ordered the hearing after he rescinded Boeing’s immunity from the U.S. Department of Justice on Jan. 19. Now, lawyers and families are trying to impose restrictions on Boeing they say could prevent a third crash.
The conditions include Boeing committing no new crimes, an independent corporate monitor evaluating Boeing’s compliance and assurance that compliance is “made public to the fullest extent possible.”
Boeing and Justice Department representatives say the families’ proposed orders are unnecessary because of existing oversight by the Federal Aviation Administration and obligations from an agreement made in a settlement with the federal government.
Kuria doesn’t trust that Boeing will do the right thing and sees the company’s argument as a way to skirt accountability.
“Their arguments were ridiculous,” she said.
The Department of Justice and Boeing were opposed to the conditions of release. A Boeing spokesperson said the company is sorry for the loved ones lost on Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Flight 302 and greatly respects the testimonies at the hearing.
“We have made broad and deep changes across our company, and made changes to the design of the 737 MAX to ensure that accidents like these never happen again,” the statement from Boeing said. “We also are committed to continuing to comply scrupulously with all of our obligations under the agreement we entered into with the Justice Department two years ago.”
In 2021, Boeing agreed to pay $2.5 billion in fines — including $500 million to the families — after a settlement with the Department of Justice. The federal government issued fraud conspiracy charges to the company because of the 737’s faulty design.
As a result of the settlement, the company was granted immunity from the U.S. Department of Justice regarding the flawed design of the airplanes.
Boeing admitted in court documents that it deceived the Federal Aviation Administration about the speed and range of the 737 MAX’s flight controls.
In October 2022, O’Connor, the federal judge from Fort Worth, ruled that people killed in Boeing’s crashes are considered “crime victims” by law.
Why the hearing is happening in Fort Worth is unclear. The families’ initial filing in December 2021 notes none of the prosecutors listed on the docket sheet as maintaining offices in the Fort Worth area. The filing argues that the victims’ families weren’t considered.
“Fort Worth is a more difficult location for victims’ families to travel to than other districts more obviously connected with Boeing’s conspiracy,” the filing said. “For example, given that Boeing conspired to obstruct the (FAA’s) safety evaluation in Washington, D.C. — and this case was prosecuted primarily by the Fraud Section of the Criminal Division of the Justice Department in Washington, D.C. — it is unclear why the government did not elect to proceed there.”
For family members such as Kuria, O’Connor’s decision to make Boeing attend an arraignment leaves her with some hope.
“But we’ve been used to so much disappointment in this process that you don’t want to put all of your hope, all of your eggs in a basket,” Kuria said.
Families and lawyers expect O’Connor will make a ruling following a review of documents from the Department of Justice. The timing of that ruling is unknown.
Seth Bodine is a business and economic development reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at email@example.com and follow on Twitter at @sbodine120.