by Julie Keller
Aug 12, 2002, 11:45 AM PT
The one-year anniversary of Aaliyah's death is approaching this month, but the controversy from her tragic passing remains.
The newest chapter? Virgin Records, the late R&B phenom's record label, has apparently reneged on a promise to cover the costs of preparing and shipping the bodies of the singer and eight others back to the United States.
Butler's Funeral Home spent $68,000 preparing and transporting the bodies of the 22-year-old singer and her crew after they were killed in an August 25 plane crash in the Bahamas. Loretta Turner, director of the Nassau-based funeral home, says former Virgin executives Ken and Nancy Berry agreed to cover all of the costs incurred.
But since then, the husband-and-wife team has left the company, and the bill has been ignored.
"Because Aaliyah was, in their words, 'high profile,' they asked us to expedite things. So we were working over the weekend to get the bodies out as quickly as possible," Turner tells E! Online. "[The deal] was all verbal, but the truth of the matter is, they knew they were obliged. They contacted all of the families themselves, sent us all of the necessary information and told us not to deal directly with the family members, that they would be responsible."
Since that time, Turner said she has endlessly tried, via phone calls, letters and faxes, to contact company executives--to no avail.
"We have a very good working relationship with the U.S. Embassy, and they told us Virgin was a reputable company and we should go ahead and do it," she says. "Now this reputable company has kept us waiting for nearly a year and have basically said, since the Berrys are no longer there, they have no responsibility to us. I don't know if they think we are some sort of Third-World banana republic and we're not up to scratch, but it just gives a pretty bad view of things in our view."
Reps for Virgin Records did not immediately return calls for comment.
The funeral home is not currently pursuing legal action, but Turner has forwarded her case to New York attorney Robert Spragg, who is representing Michael and Diane Haughton, Aaliyah's parents and the administrators of her estate in other legal matters regarding the accident.
Spragg says former Virgin chief Ken Berry also promised to reimburse the Haughtons for funeral costs. "Those payments were never made to the family to reimburse those costs, and the costs were substantial," he says.
In May, the Haughtons filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Virgin, as well as several video-production companies and the owner of the ill-fated twin-engine Cessna that went down shortly after takeoff.
An investigation has turned up several troubling details about the crash, including the discovery of drugs and booze in the system of the pilot behind the controls, and the fact that the plane was at least 700 pounds over its capacity when it lifted off from Marsh Harbour Airport on Abaco Island. There also has been a criminal probe into Blackhawk International Airways, which wasn't licensed to fly charter planes in the Bahamas.
According the Spragg, those lawsuits--as well as lawsuits from other family members of those killed in the crash--are also moving forward. "We have a lot of work ahead of us," he says.
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