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VALUJET FLIGHT 592: ONE YEAR LATER // "The pain is still there. There is no closure' // Families honor ValuJet victims

As pastors and rabbis prayed in four languages to comfort relatives of the 110 people killed a year ago Sunday in the ValuJet crash, an anguished mother had harsh words for the airline.

"My son died because of greed from people who have no respect for other people's lives," Carmen Roberts said. "Mother's Day will never be the same."

Roberts, who lost her 23-year-old son, Philmore Marks, in the crash of Flight 592, reflected the opinions of many of the relatives, who think federal regulators and the airlines haven't learned from the crash, allowing planes to fly without smoke detectors and fire sprinklers.

About 175 people attended the hourlong service at First United Methodist Church. Pictures of loved ones lined the front of the church and a rainbow made of cotton balls and papier-mache decorated the hallway.

"The rainbow is a symbol of the diversity of expression of faiths, of language, of culture and of nationality," the Rev. David Smith said. "God's word covers the rainbow."

President Clinton sent a short note.

"We hope you will be sustained . . . by the knowledge that even as we grieve together we also recommit ourselves to everything possible to prevent another tragedy," he wrote. "Americans throughout our nation share your sorrow."

On May 11, 1996, a fire in the front cargo hold brought down the ValuJet DC-9, killing everyone aboard. The plane plunged into the muck of the Everglades and almost disappeared. Today, sawgrass and water lilies fill the crash site about 15 miles northwest of Miami International Airport.

Several relatives visited the site over the weekend. A bouquet of multicolored flowers attached to a signpost on a roadside boat dock was the only reminder of the crash.

At the service, the Rev. Ray Otto recognized the many religions represented on the passenger list of the flight from Miami to Atlanta. He said all the families were asking God to "touch us with your healing hands."

Relatives were consoled in English, Hebrew, Spanish and French Creole.

"The pain is still there," said Marguerite Dingle, who lost her sister, Frances Brown. "There is no closure. We will carry this for a long, long time. It's a living hell."

A mother sat with a small boy on a pew to the side, weeping steadily as her young son doodled on a notepad. Relatives lined up to light a candle for each of the victims. As they waited in line, a woman cried out in despair.

A choir of four men and four women sang the 23rd Psalm, and Laura Sawyer, granddaughter of crash victims Conway and Anna Laurie Hamilton, read a poem titled: "We remember them."

"When lost and sick at heart, we remember them . . . when we have decisions that are difficult to make, we remember them," she read. "As long as we live, they too will live, for they are now part of us as we remember them."

The legacy of the crash has been an effort to better regulate the airlines. Many family members are opting for million-dollar settlements to their lawsuits rather than risking lengthy court battles.

"We are not looking for a settlement, we are looking for some type of action," said Melody Sabo, a relative of victim Dennis Sabo. "The FAA covered up problems with ValuJet and we want to know why they lied. . . .

"You can't bring back our loved ones with dollars," she said. "I'd like to see ValuJet buried."

Jim Hall, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, attended the service and met with family members afterward.

The Rev. Warren Lathem, who lost his son Ray, wasn't sympathetic to industry concerns about the high cost of equipping planes with smoke detectors.

"Any of us would have gladly found $120,000 to save our loved ones from this tragedy," Lathem said. "This crash didn't have to occur."

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