By Chase Rheam
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Family members of two Oklahoma State University basketball coaches killed in a 2011 plane crash are suing the estate of two Ponca City residents also killed in the wreck.
OSU basketball coach Kurt Budke, 50, assistant coach Miranda Serna, 36, and alumni Olin and Paula Branstetter, ages 82 and 79, were killed in a plane wreck Nov. 17, 2011, in Arkansas while on an official OSU women’s basketball recruiting trip. The cause of the wreck is still unknown.
Budke’s wife, Shelley Budke, and the parents of Serna — John Serna and Nettie Herrera — filed petitions for damages against the Branstetter estate for negligence April 27 of last year in Kay County.
According to the petitions, the aircraft “was under the direction and control of the Branstetter defendants and they, individually and/or collectively, had a duty to ensure the subject aircraft was airworthy and safe for flight, and to adequately maintain, inspect, repair, overhaul and service the subject aircraft.”
The petition asks for damages in full amounts allowed by law, pre- and post-judgment interest, costs and expenses and all other relief, whether at law or in equity, to which the plaintiffs may show themselves justly entitled. Both petitions ask for the case to be tried by jury.
In an affidavit, Jack Wesley Branstetter, the personal representative of the Branstetter estate, said his parents “frequently volunteered their services such as providing air transportation to members of Oklahoma State University’s athletic department.”
According to a court document listing the Branstetter’s various involvement with the university, at least three scholarships were established in their name, including the Olin D. Branstetter Memorial Scholarship, the Paula G. Branstetter Aviation Scholarship and the Olin R. Branstetter Farmhouse Fraternity Scholarship.
Budke’s estate is represented by Jason Roselius while John Serna and Herrera are represented by Sean Burrage of Claremore and Scott Jackson of Ponca City, respectively. On Dec. 17, 2012, Jack Branstetter’s legal counsel, including Chris Kilgore of Dallas, Kenneth Holmes of Ponca City and Anthony Mareshie of Tulsa, filed a motion to dismiss the case on the basis of Oklahoma’s Governmental Tort Claim Act, or GTCA.
According to the motion, the GTCA governs all tort actions and claims against Oklahoma, its political subdivisions and its employees and states that all three, acting within the scope of their employment, whether performing governmental or proprietary functions, shall be immune from liability for tort.
The motion states the Branstetters are immune from the lawsuit because they fall under the statutory definition of an employee as described by the GTCA.
“...The GTCA defines employee as ‘(a)ny person who is authorized to act in behalf of a political subdivision or the state whether that person is acting on a permanent or temporary basis, with or without being compensated or on a full-time or part-time basis,’” the motion states.
The motion said those wishing to proceed against the state or its employees acting within the scope of their employment must present the claim to the specific governmental agency within one year of loss.
According to the motion, the plaintiff’s petitions made no mention of the professions of any of the involved parties or associations with a state institution. According to www.odcr.com, the court held a hearing March 21 in Ponca City and later overruled the motion to dismiss March 28.
“Without commenting or ruling about the application of (the Oklahoma GTCA) to the eventual facts that will be determined in the case, the Court finds that at this time the facts presented to the court do not rule out the existence of a set of facts that may determine the relationship of the Branstetters to Oklahoma State University classified as that of independent contractor,” a court document states.
The court granted a motion to consolidate both cases against the Branstetter estate May 16.