Tim Bell's family filed suit against Halliburton on Friday, the family's lawyer said.
Bell, of Mobile, vanished a year ago today after Iraqi insurgents known as the Madr Militia launched a devastating ambush on a fuel convoy in which the civilian employee was driving one of 26 trucks.
The lawsuit charges that Halliburton, Bell's employer, concealed the dangers of working in Iraq, failed to protect him once there, and maliciously sent him and other convoy drivers into a known combat zone on April 9, 2004.
Six contractors and two soldiers were killed in the attack. Bell and an Army reservist, Sgt. Keith "Matt" Maupin of Batavia, Ohio, remain missing. Maupin was shown being held hostage in a video released after the fight, and the Army lists him as being captured. But there's been no public information about Bell since the attack.
Today, a year later, Bell's family members will gather at Most Pure Heart of Mary Catholic Church for a remembrance Mass, torn between the hope that Bell is alive and the fear that he may be lying in a shallow grave in Iraq.
The Texas lawsuit is one sign of the ebbing hope that Bell will come back alive from Iraq, where he went to earn money working for Kellogg Brown & Root. Like parent company Halliburton, KBR is based in Houston.
Among the most provocative claims in the legal fight is that Bell's convoy was a decoy, sent out in camouflage army trucks to draw enemy fighters away from a second convoy.
Vincent Howard, a Newport Beach, Calif., lawyer in a firm working for the Bell family, said the lawsuit will seek to recover damages for fraud and lies that led to the Bell's death. Specifically, the suit contends that workers were told they would be safe in Iraq, and that Halliburton and military failed on Good Friday 2004 by sending the fuel convoy to Baghdad International Airport on a route known to be infested with attackers.
The suit also catalogues what it says are numerous failures in communication and organization, using an internal military report. A Los Angeles Times story last month discussed that military report.
The lawyers have filed suits on behalf of the surviving family members of at least two other convoy drivers who died that day, Tony Johnson of Riverside, Calif., and Steven Scott Fisher of Virginia Beach, Va.
State court officials in Houston could not confirm the filing of the Bell suit late Friday afternoon. However, they did confirm that a lawsuit on behalf of Ingrid Fisher, Steven Fisher's widow, had been filed Friday against Halliburton, KBR and Service Employees International. The Johnson lawsuit names that third company as a Cayman Islands affiliate of Halliburton.
No comment from family:
Howard said that Bell's family members, including his mother, two sisters and two brothers, didn't want to talk about Bell's status Friday, because the anniversary was dredging up painful memories
"They just want time with the family and time to get through this," Howard said.
Bell family members have said repeatedly in the past, including at a public memorial service last May at Lyons Park, that they believe Tim Bell is still alive. Relatives have also expressed frequent frustration with Halliburton, feeling that the company wasn't sharing all it knew.
The company, for its part, didn't specifically respond Friday to the lawsuits. But KBR spokeswoman Jennifer Dellinger issued a statement that said workers receive extensive safety training and that KBR has worked since last spring to increase armor on trucks. Though the company can refuse missions, Dellinger said that the U.S. military commands the trucks and that people working in Iraq understand the dangers and make conscious decisions to work there in support of the military.
"Our prayers are with the Bell family, and Halliburton and KBR continue to cooperate with authorities and are doing everything possible to assist Mr. Bell's family and friends," wrote KBR spokeswoman Jennifer Dellinger in a statement. "The U.S. military is responsible for all search and recovery efforts."
Military spokespersons referred comment Friday to American forces in Baghdad, which did not return a request for comment. Kelly Shannon, a spokeswoman for the Department of State, acknowledged that Bell was among as many as eight American civilians missing in Iraq, but said privacy rules barred her from discussing the specifics of Bell's case.
Though U.S. Rep Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican who represents Maupin's hometown, went to Iraq in February to talk to military authorities about the search for Maupin, Alabama's congressional delegation has appeared more distant from the situation.
Matt Rhodes, a spokesman for U.S. Rep Jo Bonner, R-Mobile, said the congressman has asked Halliburton to contact him if anything new develops in the case. Rhodes said Bonner hasn't contacted the military directly about the case, although the company is relying on the military to find Bell.
Michael Brumas, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Mobile, said Sessions' staff hasn't had any contact with the Bell family since just after the ambush, and hasn't had new information in months. Virginia Davis, a spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, said staffers, when they asked military officials about Bell Friday, were referred to American forces in Iraq.
Evidence of a search:
There has been evidence in recent months that American forces are actively searching for Bell and Maupin.
The remains of William Bradley, who like Bell was a missing KBR driver, were found in early January near the site of the convoy attack. Bradley's family members said at the time of the discovery that it appeared Bradley had died from wounds suffered in the attack.
Maj. Gen. William Brandenburg, the commander of U.S.-run prisons in Iraq, said in a January interview with Knight-Ridder newspapers that intelligence from an interrogation at the Abu Ghraib prison led authorities to Bradley's grave.
The same story described interrogations of people believed to have information on how to find the body of an American soldier killed in action, possibly Maupin. Though Maupin is listed as captured, a tape purporting to show his execution surfaced after the first tape showing him held hostage. Army officials said they couldn't confirm that the second tape actually showed Maupin. A military board is reviewing Maupin's status, and could reclassify him as presumed dead. Maupin's mother said Wednesday that she opposes such a change.
Time magazine reported in February that the detainee who led officials to Bradley's grave also named a gang in his village of Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad and near the prison of the same name, as men who took part in the convoy attack. The magazine said U.S. and Iraqi special forces swept the village in the first week of January, seizing eight suspects and finding American uniforms, weapons and a water cooler. Time said one of those suspects led authorities to 20 more men.
U.S. News and World Report said in February that American and Iraqi units raided sites in Baghdad, looking for attackers. That magazine said the effort, which it called Operation Trojan Roundup, raided 71 buildings and arrested 25 Iraqis.
Remembered at home:
Another group that hasn't forgotten Bell comprises his friends in Mobile. Bell was a member of the Mobile Area Mardi Gras Association. Members honored Bell and his family this year at their ball by wearing yellow ribbons and dedicating "America the Beautiful" to him and others lost in Iraq, said association member William Dotch.
Most Pure Heart of Mary displays a photo of Bell, said the Rev. Stephen Brett, and churchgoers pray for the missing man each week.
"The whole church has been supporters of the family," Brett said.