Massachusetts 10 years after 9/11, 1 family fights on in court Victim's family accuses United Airlines of negligence

By Jimmy Golen

AP Sports Writer

BOSTON (AP) -- Nineteen hijackers died on their Sept. 11 suicide mission. Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was killed by Navy Seals and dumped at sea in May. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the attacks, and a handful of his henchmen are in custody at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Mary Bavis believes there are still more to blame for the death of her son Mark -- more who have not been punished, or held accountable, or even publicly identified. In a wrongful death lawsuit due for trial in November, Bavis accuses United Airlines and the security firm Huntleigh USA Corp. of negligence for failing to keep the planes safe.

Ninety-four others also sued, forgoing the chance for a quick payout from a $7 billion victim compensation fund. Ninety-four others also sued and have all settled.

Mary Bavis will not.

"People say, 'Move on.' But it's hard to move on because we never got any answers. I just can't understand how those people even got on that plane," she said in an interview with The Associated Press as she approached the 10th anniversary of the attacks that killed her son, a scout for the NHL's Los Angeles Kings.

"A lot of people from 9/11 are behind us. They come up to me and they say, 'We're sorry we didn't go through with the fight.'"

Mike Bavis, Mark's identical twin, said that if his family's case is unique it is largely because his brother was not a breadwinner with survivors needing immediate help. "If my brother was a husband with five kids, do you think the wife and five kids could afford to wait 10 years to get compensation?" said Mike, who is now 41. "The process eliminated people pretty quickly."

The Bavises will not settle because they are determined to drag into the public record an explanation of how airline security failed on Sept. 11. (Airlines were responsible for pre-board passenger screening before 9/11 prompted the creation of the Transportation Security Administration).

Their attorney, Don Migliori, has amassed 200 depositions and millions of pages describing what went wrong. The family wants them donated to the Sept. 11 museum being built at ground zero -- or at least to become part of the public record. But many are sealed in the interest of security.

"There are so many things that we've gathered that need sunshine," Migliori said.


There were 2,977 people killed in the Sept. 11 attacks. The Victim Compensation Fund handled 2,880 claims from those left behind -- and another 2,680 from those injured. In all, the fund's special master, Kenneth Feinberg, doled out $7.049 billion in taxpayer money.

The Bavises are the only of the 95 families who sued who remain in a federal court in Manhattan. Their trial is set to start Nov. 7. U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein dismissed the Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs Logan International Airport, as a defendant from the lawsuit.

"This was a tragic event, and we are actively working to resolve this case," United spokeswoman Megan McCarthy said in a statement emailed to the AP.

There will be no settlement, Mike Bavis said, until there is accountability for his brother's death.

"He's fighting this as if somebody attacked him," Migliori said. "Try to imagine half of yourself being gone."

Like so many New England boys, Mark and Mike Bavis learned to skate by pushing a chair for balance, then followed a progression through Mites and Squirts and Pee Wees and Bantams, shooting at a net on the driveway when ice wasn't available. Their father, a Boston policeman who died in 1991, used to call them his bookends.

"The one thing about being a twin and being in sports -- you didn't have to coordinate anything. You just have to walk out the back door," said Mike, who was born 10 minutes before Mark. "You may not know it at the time, but it was pretty cool."

They won three high school state championships at Catholic Memorial, and there was more success at BU: Four straight trips to the NCAA tournament, three titles in the Beanpot tournament between the Boston-area hockey powers and an appearance in the 1991 national championship game.

Mike and Mark were not the stars of the team -- Joe and David Sacco would make it to the NHL -- but they were coach Jack Parker's choice when he needed a pair of hard-hitting forwards to kill penalties.

"Their skill was augmented by their unbelievable competitiveness," Parker said. "They were tenacious; in your face. You couldn't get away from them. You know you were in for a game when you went up against them."

"The Bavi," as Parker called them, were twice voted by their peers as the player who best exemplifies the spirit of BU hockey.

Both times, they shared the award.

The New York Rangers picked Mark in the ninth round of the NHL draft; Mike was a 12th-round pick by the Buffalo Sabres. Neither made it to the NHL, though, and after a few years in the minor leagues -- one of them on the South Carolina Stingrays as teammates -- they both turned to coaching.

Mark got a job at Brown University, then Harvard, then a minor-league pro team in Chicago before landing a job with the Los Angeles Kings as a scout. He remained active in youth coaching and ran a summer hockey camp in Canton, Mass., in 2001. When the summer was over, he boarded United Flight 175 to L.A. to report to Kings' training camp. The hijacked jetliner was the second plane to fly into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

The lawsuit accuses United and Huntleigh of haphazard pre-board screening that failed to detect the box cutters the hijackers used to take over the plane. There were 10 screeners at the United Flight 175 checkpoint who did not know what Aviation Security Level 3 meant -- a heightened threat, Migliori said; four did not speak English or had difficulty identifying pepper spray, Migliori said.

At a hearing this summer, United lawyers said the airline followed federal security procedures. The airline also argued it was the Bavises burden to prove that the attacks were the "kind of event that never occurs without negligence."

If they can't, United lawyer Michael Feagley said, "that's just the way life shakes out sometimes."

At this, Mike Bavis' voice cracks with anger.

"Unimaginable to a hockey coach; unimaginable to a reporter; unimaginable, maybe, to a congressman. Not unimaginable to an airline that's been told: 'We have a heightened risk.'

"Not unimaginable. It should not be."

In the "Bavis Box" at Agganis Arena, the largest premium suite in the home of the BU hockey team, a poster-sized picture of Mark Bavis holding the Beanpot trophy looks down at the seats and the ice beyond. Former players, some of them stars in the NHL, pitched in to buy a lifetime lease for the suite so that there would always be a place for them at Terriers hockey games.

Around the corner in the coaching offices, Mike Bavis' shelves contain more mementoes from his brother's life, and his death. A puck features the logo from the Mark Bavis Leadership Foundation, which funds school tuition and extracurricular programs to give children experiences like those that "contributed to making Mark the person that he was."

There are books on motivation and hockey strategy. And there on the desk, in a one-inch pile of unbound paper, is a transcript from Bavis v. United Airlines et al.

Hockey is a sport that at its highest level promotes -- or at least does not discourage -- fighting. Many outsiders consider it barbaric, but those who love the game insist that this form of rough justice allows the players to police themselves, with enforcers dropping the gloves to defend their smaller but more skilled teammates.

Even in college, where fighting is banned, the strong stand up for the weak. "It's a matter of people owning up to their responsibilities," Parker said, extending the analogy off the ice.

"I don't think there's any question the whole family feels that way," he said. "You pick on one of us, you're going to fight all of us."

Published: Tue, Aug 30, 2011