Spokane family sues Alaska Air after woman in wheelchair falls down escalator

The family of a Spokane Valley woman filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Alaska Airlines Wednesday, claiming that a contractor failed to escort their elderly mother to her gate for a flight to Spokane.

The attorneys both said that Kekona's family checked with Alaska Airlines officials to make sure that she would have the same gate-to-gate service that they had requested and received on all previous flights, including the connection flight earlier that day to Seattle.

Video captured the moment that Bernice Kekona, seat-belted to her power wheelchair, tumbled and crashed down an escalator, landing near the bottom with the heavy chair on top of her.

Kekona was born and raised in Hawaii, but moved to Spokane Valley in 2012 to live with Bloyed after having her leg amputated following complications from diabetes.

The family says two employees of Huntleigh USA Corp., a contractor hired by Alaska, took Kekona off the plane and put her in her scooter-wheelchair but then abandoned her.

The woman died four months after the fall, and family members allege that neglect at the airport contributed to her injuries.

"One way or another, the service was not provided and Alaska (Airlines) did not have any mechanisms in place to protect against such a tragedy or an accident that could happen if the service wasn't provided", said Brook Cunningham, the lawyer representing the Kekona family in this case.

Alaska Airlines said in a statement that "after conducting a preliminary investigation, it appears that Ms. Kekona declined ongoing assistance in the terminal and made a decision to proceed on her own to her connecting flight".

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The family is seeking reparation for damages, expenses and any "further relief as the court may deem just and proper" resulting from Bernice's eventually fatal fall, according to court documents.

"We're heartbroken by this tragic and disturbing incident".

Despite eventually being sat upright, Kekona's family says she suffered trauma to her head and chest, a cut to her Achilles tendon and gashes on the side of her face.

The lawsuit indicates that Kekona appeared to confuse an escalator for an elevator. The airline also noted her reservation did not note any "cognitive, visual or auditory impairments".

Huntleigh didn't respond immediately to requests for comment. "She would have been home perfectly fine", Cunningham said. "Once in the concourse, she went off on her own". Cunningham said she also stopped at a store, looking for her gate. She was provided a wheelchair, but did not receive the "gate-to-gate escort" that she was promised, according to the lawsuit obtained by the Daily News. Her blood pressure never fully recovered from the surgery. From June 7 to September 20 - the date of the accident to her ultimate death - Bernice accrued nearly $300,000 in medical bills, according to the lawsuit.

After she was left in her chair, Kekona later said, she became confused as she looked for her gate to Spokane.

Video captures Bernice Kekona's accident.

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