Broward County

BSO baggage claim guards were at a retirement party when shooting started, lawsuit says

In this Jan. 30, 2017, file photo, Esteban Santiago, center, is led from the Broward County jail for an arraignment in federal court in Fort Lauderdale.
In this Jan. 30, 2017, file photo, Esteban Santiago, center, is led from the Broward County jail for an arraignment in federal court in Fort Lauderdale. AP

When the shooting started Jan. 6, 2017, at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, the Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies assigned to guard the baggage claim area weren’t at their posts, a newly filed lawsuit claims. Instead, the suit says, they were in a nearby office full of balloons and cake for a retirement party.

The Virginia Beach woman behind the suit — filed Thursday and first reported by the South Florida Sun Sentinel — is suing BSO, Delta Airlines and the security firms charged with protecting the airport.

She said that in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, as her husband’s body still lay on the floor of the airport, she was hustled into that party room. She waited there for hours, she said, as law enforcement investigated the scene.

On that day, Ann and Terry Andres had just landed in the Fort Lauderdale airport on their way to a cruise to celebrate their birthdays. Terry was grabbing the couple’s luggage, and Ann was sitting down texting their daughters.

That’s when Ann heard loud popping. She looked up and saw a man, Esteban Santiago Ruiz, walking toward her and shooting. He killed the man right next to her, and she dove under the chairs she had just been sitting on. She tried to use her luggage for cover.

The gunman kept shooting in Terry’s direction. When Ann finally found her husband, he was facedown and unresponsive. Her screaming eventually drew the attention of medics, who put a plastic band on his wrist to indicate he was dead. Terry Andres was one of five people killed in the shooting. Six were seriously wounded.

In the chaos after the shooting, she and another spouse of a shooting victim were shuttled from room to room inside the airport while police swarmed outside. One of those offices, Andres noticed, was festooned with balloons and a cake. She was in there for hours.

That was the room where BSO deputies were celebrating a fellow detective’s retirement instead of guarding baggage claim when the shooting took place, the lawsuit alleges.

Andres said the violent images of her husband’s death “will never leave [her] thoughts and nightmares.”

The shooter pleaded guilty to the killings in exchange for avoiding the death penalty. He faces five life sentences at his Aug. 17 sentencing hearing.

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