The 16-year-old driver of the car that crashed in Sarpy County in June, killing her and three of her friends, had a blood alcohol reading of .09 after the crash, a forensic examination found.
The Sarpy County Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday that Abigail Barth was driving the eastbound 2017 Ford Fusion when it veered off Platteview Road just west of 180th Street, came to rest in a creek and caught fire.
Accident investigators determined that the car was traveling over 90 mph at the time of the crash, which was reported about 11:10 p.m. June 17. The posted speed limit on Platteview Road is 55 mph.
In addition to Barth, the crash killed 16-year-olds Kloe Odermatt and Addisyn Pfeifer and 15-year-old Alex Minardi. The girls were close friends who would have entered 11th grade this year at Gretna High School. Their friend and classmate Roan Brandon, 15, was injured in the crash and has been released from the hospital.
The Sheriff’s Office said the passengers in the vehicle had the following blood alcohol readings: Brandon: .05; Minardi: .02; Odermatt: .10; and Pfeifer: .00.
In Nebraska, it is illegal for anyone to drive with a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher. The legal drinking age in the state is 21. It’s illegal for people in the state who are younger than 21 to have a blood alcohol reading above .02.
Sarpy County Attorney Lee Polikov said his office has yet to receive reports on the case and isn’t thinking about charges against Brandon.
“We’re not in any hurry to do that — she’s got some hurdles she’s got to get over, medical, and all that,” he said Tuesday afternoon.
A higher priority for Sarpy County law enforcement, Polikov said, is figuring out where the girls got the alcohol.
“The sheriff and his people are working diligently to see if someone else provided the alcohol — where it was obtained,” Polikov said.
Sarpy County Sheriff Jeff Davis said authorities don’t know what kind of alcohol the girls were drinking or how they procured it.
“We think there are people out there that know,” he said. “We’re asking them to come forward.”
Anyone with information about who provided the alcohol may contact Crime Stoppers, anonymously, at 402-592-STOP.
Davis said the Sheriff's Office has interviewed Brandon about the crash, which helped investigators determine such information as where the girls were sitting in the car.
Brandon's family has hired an attorney, Davis said. He said the Sheriff's Office plans to seek future interviews with her to learn more about the events that preceded the crash.
"We're hoping we can line that up at a future date," he said.
Authorities have interviewed at least 40 people about the night of the crash, Davis said.
The Sheriff’s Office tries to stress to teens the risks and consequences of underage drinking, Davis said: “We constantly preach that."
Each year, deputies set up a mock crash scene at Gretna High School to educate students about the dangers of drinking and driving.
“Unfortunately,” Davis said, “I got to believe it takes something like this to wake people up.”
Gretna Public Schools Superintendent Rich Beran said Tuesday that at some point, school staff will discuss whether they need to change or beef up any of their programs warning kids about risky behavior.
“We’re always talking to students about underage drinking and driving too fast,” he said.
Preliminary reports indicated that the girls may have been attending a party in the area of 225th and Harrison Streets, but Sheriff’s Office officials said they have no evidence to support that.
On June 22, about 900 people attended a celebration of life service for the girls at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Gretna.
World-Herald staff writers Reece Ristau, Nancy Gaarder and Erin Duffy contributed to this report.
Omaha declared a truce Tuesday with a longtime adversary — adult entertainment business owner Shane Harrington. The city did so by recommending approval of his liquor license.
In return, Harrington agreed to steer patrons of his west Omaha strip club to the bar he plans to open next door. He also pledged not to let booze into his original club with nude exotic dancers.
Before voting, members of the City Council checked with the city’s Law Department to verify that it recommended approval of the application, with changes.
Both City Attorney Paul Kratz and City Prosecutor Matt Kuhse explained that granting Harrington a liquor license would increase the city’s ability to enforce the law at Harrington’s businesses.
The City Council, in a 6-0 vote, then recommended that the state grant a liquor license to Harrington’s planned go-go club with bikini-clad dancers at 120th and West Center Road.
Nobody testified against the application.
Harrington plans to locate the new Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club in the neighboring bay of the strip mall that houses Club Omaha, his members-only, fully nude strip club.
He said he’s in the process of buying the bar next to Club Omaha, Rehab Lounge, to renovate it into the go-go club. He said he would like to buy the entire strip mall.
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The vote put council members Aimee Melton and Brinker Harding, Republicans who represent parts of west Omaha on the officially nonpartisan council, in the uncomfortable position of recommending approval.
They secured conditions that would keep alcohol out of Club Omaha and allow police into that venue to check if alcohol was being brought inside.
The council also persuaded Harrington to pursue a traditional liquor license, instead of one that would allow him to host outdoor events, and he pledged that workers would be wearing at least a bikini if they stepped outside.
Club Omaha and the planned Hustler Club would share an internal door, and he agreed Tuesday that it would be used only by employees, not patrons.
Melton said working with Harrington, no matter how distasteful, was safer for customers and dancers and other employees than continuing the status quo.
“This is better than the alternative where we don’t have a lot of control,” she said.
Harding said it became clear that a liquor license was the best option, “a hammer” to help the city make sure that what is happening at both clubs is above board and legal.
Harrington said that if the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission approves his liquor license application, he would drop his lawsuits against the city regarding his private bottle club.
Tuesday’s vote could mark the beginning of the end of a years-long fight with the city that culminated last summer in a nearly nude protest near 72nd and Dodge Streets.
Harrington said he knows that his application could still face scrutiny by the Liquor Commission, but he’s hopeful that the public fight is almost done.
His ultimate aim: return to relative anonymity.
“I am smiling right now, but I’m trying not to get too excited yet,” he said. “I’ve been close before.”
Crudely controlling his crippled DC-10 through almost sheer will, Captain Alfred C. Haynes put the plane into a perilous looping descent toward the airport in Sioux City, Iowa.
“I’ll tell you what, we’ll have a beer when this is all done,” fellow pilot Denny Fitch told him at one moment.
“Well, I don’t drink, but I will sure as hell have one,” Haynes coolly responded.
Decades before Capt. “Sully” Sullenberger and the miracle on New York’s Hudson River, there was Capt. Al Haynes coaxing United Flight 232 into a cartwheeling crash landing in Sioux City.
Flight 232 didn’t have the same immaculate ending. One hundred and twelve souls died on that tragic day, July 19, 1989.
But even more remarkable was the fact that 184 others lived, their survival largely due to the cool resolve of Haynes and three other pilots as they fought to bring a jumbo jet that had lost all flight controls back down to Earth.
The crash of Flight 232 occurred 30 years ago Friday, long before Twitter and cellphone videos made instant celebrities of heroic figures like Sullenberger. In fact, even for most in our region, Flight 232 and pilot Haynes are but a distant memory, if they’ve heard of them at all.
But there are some who could never forget. Particularly those who owe their lives to the gritty heroes of that day — both in the air and on the ground in Iowa.
Said Spencer Bailey, who was just 3 years old on that fateful day: “I feel like every single survivor on that plane is indebted to those that were in the cockpit.”
* * *
Thirty-seven thousand feet over northwest Iowa, Brandon and Spencer Bailey sat in the rear of the jumbo jet enjoying their lunch and the childlike thrill of flying.
The boys, ages 6 and 3, and mother Francie had left their home in Littleton, Colorado, for the Denver-to-Chicago flight. They would then be going on to Boston to meet up with their father and another brother.
Of the 296 passengers on board Flight 232, 52 were children like Brandon and Spencer, many taking advantage of a special United promotion that allowed kids to fly that day for a penny.
Up in the cockpit, Captain Haynes was just finishing his own lunch, with First Officer William Records at the controls. The 57-year-old Haynes, a former Marine Corps aviator, had made this same two-hour flight countless times during his 33-year career with the airline.
Suddenly at 3:16 p.m., shortly after the plane had passed from Nebraska airspace into Iowa, an explosion rang out from the back of the plane.
A fan disk in the DC-10’s rear engine had disintegrated, causing the engine to blow apart and sending fragments ripping into the plane’s tail section. Soon after, the plane went into a steep right bank, and Records turned to Haynes. “Al, I can’t control the airplane.”
Haynes tried his own controls and also got no response. It turned out that the engine’s catastrophic failure had severed all three of the plane’s hydraulic systems, disabling all flight controls.
That meant the pilots had no ability to steer the plane up or down or left or right. And no brakes to stop it once on the ground.
The odds of all three systems failing had been considered a billion to one, so there was no protocol for landing a plane in those conditions. Haynes and the crew would have to make things up as they went along.
The plane was tilting at nearly a 45-degree angle, dangerously close to rolling over and going into a nosedive from which it could not recover. Keeping a cool head, Haynes idled the left engine and fully throttled the right. After some tense moments, the plane roughly leveled out.
Haynes was soon on the radio with air traffic controllers in Minneapolis.
“United 232, we’re declaring an emergency and request landing at the nearest suitable airport,” Haynes said.
“Would you like to go to Sioux City?” came the response.
“Affirmative,” Haynes said.
Had the engine’s failure occurred just minutes earlier, it’s possible Omaha, Lincoln or Offutt Air Force Base could have become the emergency destination.
As it happened, Dennis Fitch, a DC-10 flight instructor, was on the flight sitting in first class and volunteered to go to the cabin to help out. He took the seat of Flight Engineer Dudley Dvorak, meeting Haynes for the first time.
Haynes and his crew had continued to steer and keep the plane level by throttling the left and right engines. The task was made more difficult by the fact that the plane was also porpoising up and down, a motion that could also only be arrested through manipulation of the thrust controls.
With Fitch taking over the thrust controls and Haynes working other systems and gauges, the pilots brought the plane into a bumpy, right-circling descent over Sioux City.
“Little right turns,” Haynes told Fitch as they continued one of three big loops over western Iowa. “Little right turns.”
Haynes engaged with air traffic controller Kevin Bachman in the tower at Sioux City’s Gateway Airport. Together, they navigated a final approach path that would keep the plane away from the city center. Haynes feared the plane coming up short and going down in the city of 80,000.
“Whatever you do, keep us away from the city,” Haynes said.
Amid it all, Haynes also addressed the passengers on the plane’s public address system.
“We’re going to make an emergency landing in Sioux City,” he said. “And I’m not going to kid you. It’s going to be rough.”
It was deathly quiet in the cabin as chief flight attendant Jan Brown calmly briefed passengers on how to survive a crash landing. The procedure called for passengers to bend over in their seats and brace themselves. Small children were to be stashed down on the floor.
The Bailey boys had been sitting side by side, but their mother and Spencer switched seats so she could put her arms around both her sons. Everyone remained so calm, to Brandon it all seemed very routine.
Flight 232 made one final sweeping left turn. At 4,000 feet altitude, the plane broke through the clouds. Haynes had the airport in his sights.
“You’re cleared to land on any runway,” Bachman told Haynes.
Haynes chuckled aloud. “You want to be particular and make it a runway, huh,” he said.
On the tarmac north of the airport terminal, Gary Brown, the head of Woodbury County Emergency Services, stood watching the jet come in.
With about a half-hour warning, hundreds of emergency personnel had assembled from more than 40 communities in the tri-state region of Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota, as well as guardsmen from the adjacent Iowa Air National Guard base. They now awaited the troubled jet’s arrival.
Brown felt prepared. Just two years earlier, regional emergency responders had run a mock drill in which a plane carrying 100 passengers crashed, and on the same runway Flight 232 was aiming for.
As the plane drew nearer, things looked good to Brown. The nose was up. The wings were level. The landing gear was down. “It looked like he was going to touch down, and the passengers and everyone would be home for dinner,” he later said.
But the plane was actually doomed.
A DC-10 typically lands at 160 mph while dropping at a rate of 250 feet per minute. Flight 232 was doing 247 mph and dropping 1,850 feet per minute, bound for a forceful crash landing.
Right before the 4 p.m. impact, Haynes called out to passengers: “Brace! Brace! Brace!”
Just above the ground, the plane’s nose suddenly dropped, so Fitch fired both engines to try to bring it back up. But the left engine was running stronger than the right, causing the right wing to dip.
The right wing hit the pavement and was sheared off, sparking a fireball of leaking jet fuel. The fuselage bounced hard on the runway and then broke apart.
Brandon Bailey was pinned back in his seat by the force of the wind and then engulfed by a gray cloud of smoke and flying debris. Then he blacked out.
The tail section in which his family was sitting broke off and careened straight down the runway. Most of the rest of the plane veered off to the right and slowly rolled over on to its back, sliding more than a mile off the end of the runway into a cornfield.
Emergency vehicles raced to the scene. Brown initially didn’t think anyone could have survived what he’d just witnessed.
Then he was astonished to see dazed passengers emerging from the corn and smoke. Many others were trapped in the wreckage or hanging upside down in their seats.
First responders went into triage mode. They quickly moved on from those who were breathing and stable and those who were clearly dead. The focus was on those in most need of lifesaving care.
When Brandon Bailey came to, he found himself still sitting in his seat, which had broken free of the plane and was resting upright on the runway. Both of his legs were badly broken and mangled, but he strangely felt no pain.
Spencer and his mother were nowhere in sight. But the boy didn’t panic. Because he’d survived, he assumed they had, too.
A woman who had been sitting on his other side was still strapped in next to him, bleeding from a wound to the head. Her husband was about 25 feet away, face down on the pavement and not moving.
Shortly thereafter a young Iowa guardsman came by and checked on them. The woman insisted that he check on her husband, too.
The guardsmen glanced over and quickly moved on. “We will get him later,” he said. Even as a 6-year-old, Brandon realized the woman’s husband was dead.
Eventually, rescue personnel returned and cut Brandon and the woman out of their seats, taking them away on stretchers. Within 45 minutes, all 184 survivors had been evacuated to regional hospitals.
Spencer was among them. He was found beneath some seats in the rear fuselage, unconscious from head injuries. He was carried from the scene by Iowa guard officer Dennis Nielsen, a moment immortalized in an iconic photograph from that day.
But the boys’ mother perished. Brandon Bailey’s last heartrending memory of his loving and artistic mother was with her arms wrapped tightly around her sons as the plane crashed to Earth.
As for Haynes, the cockpit had broken off from the rest of the wreckage, and it took more than a half-hour for anyone to realize all four pilots were alive inside the crumpled shell.
Haynes would later be heralded for his bravery and calm under fire.
While he was happy that 184 people survived the crash, during a 25th anniversary gathering in Sioux City in 2014, he expressed regret for those who died.
“It’s our responsibility to get the airplane from A to B safely, and we didn’t do it,” said Haynes, who is 87 today and lives in SeaTac, Washington.
Despite such words, it’s unlikely anyone could have saved those who lost their lives. When the Federal Aviation Administration used flight simulators to replicate the situation the crew faced, not one pilot in dozens of tries could bring the plane to the ground safely.
Brown, 30 years later, is still the head of emergency management in Sioux City. He said Flight 232 remains a tragic but proud moment for all the Siouxland region.
Besides the hundreds of first responders and medical personnel, citizens also stepped in to help. Some took it upon themselves to close off Interstate 29 and other roadways to traffic, clearing the way for ambulances to make multiple trips between the airport and hospitals. The lines of volunteers at the local blood bank went around the block.
“Everybody just went to work,” Brown said. “This was a whole community that stepped up to do what needed to be done.”
Spencer Bailey was in a coma for five days. Brandon Bailey would undergo years of surgeries on his legs and was hospitalized for months.
But both would eventually make complete recoveries. Brandon rebounded so well from his leg injuries he’d go on to play Division I lacrosse in college.
While the brothers still carry some physical scars from that day, mentally they long ago moved on. The Bailey boys grew very close to their father and each other, and were surrounded by outside support.
Spencer, who has no memories of that day at all, works as a journalist in New York. Brandon now lives in Chicago and works as a marketing consultant. Both remain grateful to Haynes, the crew and everyone else on the ground in Sioux City.
“It’s just incredible what they were able to accomplish,” Brandon said. “I owe my life to all of them for sure.”
“The fact that they even got near a runway to land the jet is a miracle,” Spencer said in a podcast he recently produced on the crash.
A year ago, Brandon once again flew from Denver to Chicago — this time with a poignant purpose.
He was getting married and decided to give his wife his mother’s wedding ring. It was a way to include his mother in his new life. So he returned home to Denver to retrieve the ring from his father.
On Brandon’s return flight, the ring landed safely with him in Chicago, just as it was supposed to on July 19, 1989.
“When I made that flight from Denver to Chicago, that was the most heavy and emotional this has felt in a long time,” he said.
“But it felt special. It was a nice way 30 years later to get a little more closure.”
A recently released — and then deleted — document published by a NATO-affiliated body has garnered attention in Europe with an apparent confirmation of a longheld open secret: U.S. nuclear weapons are being stored in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey.
A version of the document, titled "A new era for nuclear deterrence? Modernisation, arms control and allied nuclear forces," was published in April. Written by a Canadian senator for the Defense and Security Committee of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, the report assessed the future of the organization's nuclear deterrence policy.
But what would make news months later is a passing reference that appeared to reveal the location of about 150 U.S. nuclear weapons being stored in Europe.
According to a copy of the document published Tuesday by Belgian newspaper De Morgen, a section on the nuclear arsenal read: "These bombs are stored at six US and European bases — Kleine Brogel in Belgium, Buchel in Germany, Aviano and Ghedi-Torre in Italy, Volkel in The Netherlands, and Incirlik in Turkey." The document does not attribute this information to any source. Last week, a final version of the report was published without the reference to where bombs are stored. Instead, the report refers vaguely to aircraft that could carry nuclear weapons.
"The European Allies often cited as operating such aircraft are Belgium, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, and Turkey," the document said.
Joseph Day, the author of the report, wrote in an email that the first version of the report was only a draft.
As a rule, neither the United States nor its European partners discuss the location of Washington's nuclear weapons on the continent. "This is not an official NATO document," said a NATO official.
A number of European outlets, however, viewed the report as confirmation of an open secret. "Finally in black and white: There are American nuclear weapons in Belgium," ran the report in De Morgen. "NATO reveals the Netherlands's worst-kept secret," said Dutch broadcaster RTL News.
The presence of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe was indeed "no surprise," said Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat-reduction policy at the Arms Control Association. "This has long been fairly open knowledge."
The presence of the weapons derived from an agreement reached in the 1960s and is in many ways a relic of the Cold War era — designed not only to act as deterrence to the nuclear armed-Soviet Union, but also to convince countries that they didn't need their own nuclear weapons programs.
But times have changed. In 2016, after a coup attempt and the rapid spread of the Islamic State next door, analysts wondered whether Turkey was really such a great place to store nuclear weapons.
Meanwhile, near Germany's Büchel air base, the failure of arms-control treaties with Russia has prompted fears about a new arms race.
"The military mission for which these weapons were originally intended — stopping a Soviet invasion of Western Europe because of inferior U.S. and NATO conventional forces — no longer exists," Reif said.