PONCA CITY — Family members of two Oklahoma State University women's basketball coaches killed in a plane crash in November 2011 are suing the estate of the deceased pilot and his wife.
The widow of former head women's basketball coach Kurt Budke and the parents of Miranda Serna, an assistant coach, are seeking an unspecified amount of money from the estate of Olin and Paula Branstetter, who lived in the Ponca City area.
The lawsuits, quietly filed last year in Kay County District Court, accuse the couple of negligence.
Budke, Serna and the Branstetters all died Nov. 17, 2011, when the small plane they were riding in crashed in Arkansas, where the coaches were headed on a recruiting trip.
At the time of the crash, Serna was 36. Budke was 50.
The Branstetters, both graduates and longtime supporters of OSU, often volunteered their time for the university and had taken Budke, Serna and other coaches on similar trips in the past.
According to a probable cause report released in March by the National Transportation Safety Board, Olin Branstetter, 82, was piloting the single-engine Piper PA-28-180 Cherokee when it crashed near Perryville, Ark.
The report states that Olin Branstetter lost control of the plane just before it crashed but offered few other details. It also left open the possibility that he may have experienced a medical event before losing control of the plane but notes that his body was in such poor condition that making such a determination wasn't possible.
Paula Branstetter, who was 79, was reportedly sitting behind her husband at the time of the crash. She was a certified pilot, but the NTSB report shows that she was too far from the cockpit to assist in the case of an emergency.
The couple's plane, which had undergone its annual inspection about a week before the crash, had no apparent mechanical difficulties, the report revealed. It also showed that Olin Branstetter had no drugs in his system at the time of the crash.
Paul Branstetter, one of the couple's three living sons, said he had no comment about the lawsuit.
The lawsuit filed against the Branstetters' estate is pending.
In March, a district judge ruled the couple were not considered employees of OSU and are not protected by Oklahoma's Governmental Tort Claims Act.
Lawyers representing the Branstetters have claimed the couple were “employed” by the university because they frequently volunteered their time and energy to help university employees conduct school business.
“The Branstetters were carrying out the business of Oklahoma State University as unpaid volunteers by transporting Mr. Serna and Mr. Budke,” one of the Branstetter family attorneys wrote in a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
“It is for these reasons ... the Branstetters are considered persons that fall within the statutory definition of ‘employee' of the (Governmental Tort Claims Act), and (are) entitled to dismissal.”
What's at stake?
While the lawsuits filed against the Branstetters' estate do not specify how much Shelly Budke and Serna's parents are seeking, the Branstetters appeared to be wealthier than most Oklahomans.
Records available to the public do not say how much money Olin and Paula Branstetter had when they died, but do reveal that Olin Branstetter owned numerous oil and gas properties, real estate and that he had funded the education of his grandchildren using “cash and securities” before his death.
Olin Branstetters' last will and testament also discloses that he had established a trust fund to benefit his wife and three sons following his death and that he owned stock in Sonic Corp. and Bank of America in the years leading up to his death.
The lengthy document lists numerous charities, relatives, friends and others as beneficiaries.