US to pay family $17.8M for military jet crash
SAN DIEGO— A federal judge on Wednesday ordered the U.S. government to pay $17.8 million to a Korean family that lost four members when a Marine Corps fighter jet crashed into their San Diego home in 2008.
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller’s ruling came after a nonjury trial between the Department of Justice and the family, who sought $56 million for emotional and monetary loss. The Marine Corps blamed the crash on mechanical failure and human error.
Don Yoon lost his 36-year-old wife, Youngmi Lee Yoon; his 15-month-old daughter, Grace; his 2-month-old daughter, Rachel; and his 59-year-old mother-in-law, Seokim Kim Lee, who was visiting from Korea to help her eldest daughter take care of their children.
Yoon said in a statement that Miller’s ruling was “thoughtful, reasoned and just.” He broke down crying throughout his testimony, which came three years to the day after he buried his wife and girls in the same casket. He told the judge he only looks forward to the day when he can join them.
“Our family is relieved this part of the process is over, but no sum of money will ever make up for the loss of our loved ones,” he said.
The Marine Corps has said the plane suffered a mechanical failure but a series of bad decisions led the pilot — a student — to bypass a potentially safe landing at a coastal Navy base after his engine failed on Dec. 8, 2008. The pilot ejected and told investigators he screamed in horror as he watched the jet plow into the San Diego neighborhood, incinerating two homes.
Yoon said he harbors no ill will toward the Marine pilot “who did everything he could to prevent this tragedy” but added that his family believes “that misguided attempts by the military to save money and cut costs” contributed to the crash.
The military disciplined 13 members of the Marines and the Navy for the errors.
The case was unique in that the government admitted liability but disputed how much should be paid. Government lawyers had put economic losses at about $1 million but left it up to the judge to decide how much should be paid for the emotional loss.
The judge ordered Yoon to be awarded nearly $10 million, and his father-in-law, Sanghyun Lee, to be given nearly $4 million. The rest should go to the father-in-law’s three adult children for the loss of their mother, Seokim Kim Lee.
Department of Justice attorneys had offered their condolences during the trial but questioned how much the family members depended on each other.
Department of Justice officials declined to comment Wednesday.