By Robert Becker
Tribune Staff Writer
June 13, 2000

Four months after WGN radio personality Bob Collins died in a midair collision, his family filed suit Monday in Cook County Circuit Court alleging negligence on the part of the company and its employee providing air-traffic control services at Waukegan Regional Airport at the time of the crash.

The lawsuit, filed by spouse Christine Collins, names as defendants Midwest Air Traffic Control Service Inc., air-traffic controller Gregory Fowler and the estate of Sharon Hock. Hock was the student pilot who was flying the plane that collided with Collins' on Feb. 8 as the WGN announcer was attempting to land.

American Flyers, a flight school, also was named as a defendant. The suit alleges that a school instructor was in contact with Hock just before the crash.

Attempts to reach those named in the suit were unsuccessful Monday.

Attorney Robert Clifford, who represents Christine Collins, said the case would demonstrate that "a novice pilot" approached a busy landing strip and then "cut in front of Mr. Collins. We don't feel that Mr. Collins did anything wrong and was authorized to do what we has doing."

Added Christine Collins: "It is my hope that this lawsuit will raise the level of aviation safety and ensure that accidents such as this will be eliminated."

Earlier this year, Hock's father filed a negligence suit naming Bob Collins' estate, Fowler and Midwest as defendants.

Bob Collins, 57, of Mettawa, his passenger, Herman Luscher, 58, also of Mettawa, and Hock, 31, of Chicago were killed when their planes collided 2 miles east of the Waukegan airport.

Bob Collins' Zlin sport plane subsequently slammed into the roof of the nearby Midwestern Regional Medical Center and exploded. Hock's Cessna 172 clipped a tree and crashed in the parking lot of a nursing home two blocks from the hospital before tumbling to a stop in the street. No one else was injured in the crash.

In April, the Lake County coroner ruled the deaths were accidental.

Although the accident remains under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration, preliminary reports indicate Hock misread her position over the ground, concluding that her Cessna 172 was over the Lake Michigan shoreline when it was west of the water's edge--a marker that is key to aligning planes for landing at Waukegan.

In setting up for a final approach to touch down on Runway 23 behind Collins' Zlin, Hock apparently flew directly in front of him instead.

Officials believe Bob Collins, who was piloting a faster plane, was unable to avoid Hock.

According to the suit, Fowler and Midwest "were negligent" in a number of ways, including their failure to alert Bob Collins that other planes were in the area and to obtain the proper location from Hock, the student pilot.

The suit also alleges that the flying school was negligent in its instruction of Hock, including "the giving of a proper location to the air-traffic controller."

The suit contends that, at the time of the accident, Hock was under the instruction of Scott Chomicz, who was not been named as a defendant.