Family of Marietta woman killed in Florida airport shooting sues Delta

Jan 12, 2018

The family of a Marietta woman killed in a 2017 shooting at Fort Lauderdale’s airport is suing Delta Air Lines, the airport and its security contractors.

Olga and Ralph Woltering, retirees in Marietta, had flown from Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale on Jan. 6, 2017 for a family cruise scheduled when Ralph celebrated his 90th birthday.

Olga Woltering, age 84, was in a wheelchair at baggage claim with her husband Ralph waiting for their luggage, according to the lawsuit filed this week. Then, Esteban Santiago entered the baggage claim area of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport’s Terminal 2 and began shooting. When he was done, he had killed five people, including Olga Woltering.

“After waiting at the carousel next to Olga for several minutes, Ralph heard two loud noises that he recognized as gun shots,” according to the lawsuit. “Ralph immediately dropped to the ground and looked towards Olga, who was now laying on the floor and had already sustained a gunshot wound to her head. When the firing stopped, Ralph crawled to Olga and tried to speak with her, only to find that she had been killed by the gunfire.”

The suit says Ralph Woltering sat with his wife’s body while authorities responded, then called his son Timothy “to tell him about the shooting and that his mother, Olga, was killed.”

The lawsuit was filed in Broward County Circuit Court by Timothy Woltering as the representative of his mother’s estate.

“This entire tragedy could have been avoided had Delta taken simple steps to safeguard the safety of its passengers, such as having law enforcement escort passengers with a firearm out of the airport or having passengers retrieve their firearms in the cargo area outside of the airport terminal,” said Woltering’s attorney David Di Pietro in a written statement.

Atlanta-based Delta responded in a written statement that it “is saddened by the 2017 Fort Lauderdale tragedy but has no other comment at this time.

The lawsuit alleges that Santiago “was disruptive and/or exhibited suspicious behavior” while flying from Anchorage, Alaska to Fort Lauderdale with a connection in Minneapolis. His only checked baggage was his gun case with a Walther 9mm semi-automatic handgun with two magazines.

Delta paged Santiago to claim his firearm at the airline’s baggage service office. After he retrieved the gun, he went to a restroom, removed the firearm from the case and loaded it, put it in his waistband, went to the baggage claim area and began firing.

Santiago has been charged with multiple counts of violence at an international airport resulting in death and bodily injury, along with other charges.

Atlanta-based Delta “knew or should have known that recent evaluations of the airline and airport security systems had revealed that its systems constituted a high security risk,” and that the airline “failed to adequately train its employees in this regard.”

“Esteban Santiago-Ruiz was a 26 year old man traveling alone, on a one-way flight, purchased the same day, with no change of clothes despite the great weather differences in Anchorage, Alaska and Fort Lauderdale, Florida in January, and with only a firearm and ammunition,” says the lawsuit, which seeks damages in an amount to be determined at trial. “Delta had direct knowledge that Santiago had a gun. Despite the foreseeable risk present, Delta failed to provide adequate security.”

“The lawsuit alleges Delta, the airport and its security contractors, along with the Broward Sheriff’s Office, “breached the duty of care” owed to Woltering, the lawsuit alleges.

Delta “had no plan of action to prevent the foreseeable threat of a mass shooting within the airport,” alleges the lawsuit.

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AJC Business reporter Kelly Yamanouchi keeps you updated on the latest news about Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Delta Air Lines and the airline industry in metro Atlanta and beyond. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories:

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