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ValuJet Indictment Expected

Federal prosecutors are expected to file charges soon against a maintenance contractor and some employees of ValuJet, on behalf of the families of crash victims.

SabreTech Inc., which already has been fined for its lapses, expects to be indicted unless an agreement can be reached with prosecutors, company attorney Ken Quinn said today.

Some relatives of the 110 victims are pushing for tough charges against SabreTech and ValuJet executives, but a government source said today the expected indictment will charge a few line workers with knowingly falsifying documents.

The indictment is expected within two weeks, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The source said more serious charges such as negligent homicide are not expected because there's no evidence that someone had intentionally placed flammable oxygen canisters on the plane knowing they would explode.

Quinn denied there is evidence of any criminal behavior, saying the May 11, 1996, crash was "the result of an inadvertent series of errors and omissions by many parties."

But attorney John Howie, who represents the families of several victims, said an indictment was long overdue. He called charges against low-level workers "perhaps appropriate, but it's unfortunate."

All 105 passengers and five crew members died when the DC-9 nose-dived into the murky Everglades swamp minutes after takeoff from Miami on a flight to Atlanta. Flames from a cargo fire had torn through the floor of the passenger cabin.

Crash investigators concluded SabreTech employees improperly labeled the oxygen canisters, which had been placed in the cargo hold by ValuJet workers.

SabreTech was fined a record $2.25 million by the Federal Aviation Administration for improperly handling the canisters.

The criminal investigation began while crews were still at the crash site trying to recover pieces of the jet.

After the third anniversary of the crash, families of victims sent letters to Attorney General Janet Reno and Congress, complaining that too much time had passed without action.

The crash investigation split the blame among SabreTech, ValuJet and the FAA for lax oversight.

ValuJet merged with the Orlando-based discount carrier AirTran after the crash and flies under the name AirTran.

SabreTech was owned by St. Louis-based Sabreliner at the time of the crash and has since been sold.