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Man killed, 2 others hurt in copter crash

By JAY CRIDLIN, Times Staff Writer
Published October 22, 2003

[Times photo: Thomas M. Goethe]
Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies and Fire Rescue personnel investigate the crash scene off McGrady Road in Balm. County Fire Rescue battalion chief Doug Gasque said extricating the two injured men from the helicopter took some time.

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A Lakeland man was killed by falling debris Tuesday when a helicopter crashed on a strawberry farm in south Hillsborough County.

The pilot, 53-year-old Don Goodson, a prominent strawberry and produce grower, apparently had attempted a landing behind his home in Balm, authorities said.

William "Billy" Harter, 46, of Lakeland was struck and killed when the helicopter clipped a storage building and plowed into the ground.

Goodson, 53, and passenger Don Taylor, 48, of South Haven, Miss., were airlifted to Tampa General Hospital, where both underwent surgery Tuesday night.

"The injuries were very severe," said Hillsborough County sheriff's spokesman Lt. Rod Reder.

The accident occurred about 11:41 a.m. off McGrady Road, near County Road 672 and Balm-Riverview Road.

Reder said Goodson and Taylor had been "taking a little sightseeing trip" and were coming home when part of the 1963 Bell 47G helicopter struck a building Goodson uses as a hangar.

The chopper took a nose dive into a nearby fishing boat and truck parked next to the landing area, said Hillsborough County Fire Rescue battalion chief Doug Gasque.

Workers on the ground phoned for help.

In 31 years as a firefighter, Gasque said this was the first time he's had to extricate injured passengers from a helicopter crash. It took about 40 minutes for him and a crew of about 20 to remove Goodson and Taylor from the cockpit, administer first aid and load them onto two helicopters bound for Tampa General.

Harter was pronounced dead at the scene. Reder described him as an employee of Goodson's, but it is unknown why he was on the landing area at the time of the crash.

Harter and his wife, Julie, are licensed alligator trappers. Last fall, Harter removed a nuisance alligator from a bus ramp at Liberty Middle School in Tampa; a year before that he picked up a gator from a Carrollwood Village home.

The helicopter, a bubble-cockpit model, was registered to Central Florida Flying Service Inc., an Apollo Beach company. State records list Goodson as an officer with the company, which dissolved in 1987.

It's unclear whether Goodson had a current pilot's license. His name is in the Federal Aviation Authority Airmen Directory, a database of pilots and their certified rating. That doesn't necessarily mean he had no license, said FAA spokesman Donn Walker.

FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said the agency would assist the National Transportation Safety Board in its investigation of the crash. Investigators from both agencies visited the scene Tuesday.

In addition to his vast strawberry farm, Goodson owns a popular produce stand and sponsors an amateur sprint car racing team. On Saturday, Goodson Farms Inc. was title sponsor of the United Sprint Car Series Florida State Championship Race in the Florida town of Barberville.

In 1989, Goodson was accused of sending 112 migrant workers into pesticide-treated produce fields at least 24 hours too soon. He was criticized by both the Florida Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. He settled with most of the workers, the payouts ranging from about $1,000 to $10,000.


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