Security Contractor Sued over Deaths of Four in Fallujah

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Families of four slain security contractors whose bodies were burned and dragged through the streets of Fallujah, Iraq, sued the workers' former company Wednesday.

The families contend that the company, Blackwater Security Consulting, cut corners that led to the men's deaths last year. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

The workers were sent into Fallujah without proper equipment and personnel to defend the supply convoy they were guarding, according to the civil lawsuit.

Killed were Stephen S. Helvenston, Mike R. Teague, Jerko Gerald Zovko and Wesley J.K. Batalona. Zovko, known to family and friends as ``Jerry,'' grew up in suburban Cleveland.

``The fact that these four Americans found themselves located in the high-risk, war-torn city of Fallujah without armored vehicles, automatic weapons and fewer than the minimum number of team members was no accident,'' the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit alleges that one week before the deaths, Blackwater fired a project manager who had insisted that the contractors use armored vehicles.

A spokesman for North Carolina-based Blackwater said company officials had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment. Company officials declined to discuss their decisions last year after the deaths.

The attack made worldwide headlines, as frenzied and jubilant Iraqi crowds dragged the charred bodies of the four Americans through the streets and strung two of them up from a bridge.

Blackwater contracted with ESS Support Services Worldwide to provide security for food shipments to U.S. bases in Iraq. According to the suit, the contract called for security teams to have two armored vehicles and a minimum of six personnel, as well as a heavy machine gun that could fire up to 850 rounds per minute.

But plaintiffs' attorney Dan Callahan said the victims were sent out in unarmored vehicles, without the heavy machine gun and without a map, and got lost.

``When they went out, they got slaughtered,'' Callahan said.