Before Esteban Santiago unpacked a gun from his checked baggage at the Fort Lauderdale airport, filled it with ammo, and then gunned down dozens of innocent people in January, no one from Delta Airlines, the airport, or the Broward Sheriff's Office found his behavior suspicious enough to stop him. That's a basic failure of duty, says the family of Olga Woltering, an 84-year-old killed in the mass shooting.
"He's a male between 20 and 40 traveling alone... leaving Alaska in the winter and not bringing any change of clothes. The only thing he checks in is a gun," David Di Pieto, a lawyer representing Woltering's family, tells New Times. "These are basic red flags. He should have at least been questioned upon arrival or escorted out of the airport with the firearm."
Woltering's son is now moving forward with a wrongful death lawsuit against the airport, Delta Airlines, and the Broward Sheriff's Office. The petition filed late last month appears to be the first lawsuit against the county and the airline since the January 6 shooting that left five people dead and dozens more injured.
Woltering, a great-grandmother from Georgia, was headed out for a cruise with her husband of 64 years when Santiago started firing into the crowd at baggage claim back in January. Ralph Woltering survived the shooting, but the couple's son, Timothy, now fears his 90-year-old father will die before the legal battle moves forward.
Due to Ralph's advanced age, Di Pieto has asked a judge to allow him to testify as soon as possible. Because the case involves government agencies, the family must wait six months to formally file suit against BSO and the county.
At the heart of the lawsuit are Di Pieto's claims that the airport and airline acted negligently by allowing Santiago to easily access his gun. The attorney says BSO, the county, and its hired security force, Allied Barton, failed to implement policies about checked firearms, leaving it up to the airlines. And he alleges Delta failed to properly question Santiago and made no attempt to secure his gun case with plastic wrap or zip ties, which could have slowed him down. (Delta did not respond to a request from New Times seeking comment.)
Shortly after the shooting, Delta changed its policy for passengers traveling with checked guns, who are now required to pick them up from an employee at a baggage office rather than directly off the luggage carousel. Overall, Di Pieto says the case demands smarter policies from airports and airlines.
"My clients are not anti-gun folks and this is not an anti-firearm case, but the way it was handled and the way the procedures were done was wholly inadequate," he says. "We need to learn as a society how to protect people when they're traveling."