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Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Five die as plane turns two homes into infernos
The pilot of the Cessna, belonging to NASCAR's founding family, reported smoke in cockpit.
By CARRIE WEIMAR, STEPHEN NOHLGREN AND ABHI RAGHUNATHAN
Published July 11, 2007
SANFORD - Ed Reese had just pulled out of his driveway to go to work. Rocky Duran was still in bed. Miguel Espinosa was watching the morning news.
Suddenly, a loud boom shook their tranquil neighborhood Tuesday morning. Then came screams and sirens.
A small plane belonging to NASCAR's founding family had fallen out of the sky, shearing the second story off one house and turning another into a charred shell.
In an instant, the crash had turned a prosaic suburban morning into a scene of burning bodies and grieving parents.
Duran rushed to bring a blanket to a little boy who was so badly burned that "you couldn't even see him." Reese heard a father beg for the rescue of his 4-year-old daughter, still trapped in the burning house.
And as he looked out his bedroom window at the flames, Espinosa, a 63-year-old former fire chief remembered thinking: "It was an explosion. You don't survive an explosion."
The crash killed both people in the plane and three on the ground. Several others were hospitalized, including an off-duty firefighter who rushed into the burning homes and pulled out a man and his 10-year-old son.
The dead included a 24-year-old woman, her 6-month-old son and a 4-year-old girl from the house next-door.
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The two-engine Cessna 310 was headed from Daytona Beach to Lakeland when the pilot reported smoke in the cockpit and tried to divert to the Orlando Sanford International Airport, Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said.
On board was Dr. Bruce Kennedy, 54, an Ormond Beach plastic surgeon married to Lesa France Kennedy, a NASCAR vice president and president of the International Speedway Corp. Her father, Bill France Jr., is credited with turning NASCAR from a regional sport into one with a multinational following. He died in June.
The plane was owned by a corporation that lists various members of Lesa Kennedy's family as officers. Bruce Kennedy was at the controls, while Michael Klemm, 56, a senior pilot for NASCAR Aviation, served as co-pilot, according to NASCAR officials.
Kennedy was a commercial-rated pilot and Klemm was an airline transport pilot and certified flight instructor, authorities said. The National Transportation Safety Board, which arrived at the scene late Tuesday, said it is unclear who was piloting the plane or what caused the crash.
Kennedy married Lesa France in 1988. They were due to leave for a vacation in Africa late Tuesday with their 15-year-old son.
"Bruce was a great friend and a great doctor from an outstanding family," Gov. Charlie Crist said in a statement. "He was gracious beyond words, and his death is a terrible loss for Florida."
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The first 911 call came in at 8:38 a.m.
The NTSB said the plane hit a tree 75 feet high, then hit a palm tree before smashing into the two homes. It finally came to rest 100 yards away.
At 354 Willowbay Ridge St., the second story was gone. Ryan Cooper, an off-duty firefighter who had been standing in his driveway nearby, rushed inside. He pulled Peter Dechat, 36, and his 10-year-old son to safety. But he couldn't reach 4-year-old Gabriela Dechat, who died.
Reese, 48, who had been heading to work, stared at the unfolding spectacle in horror. Flames were shooting into the sky and heat coursed through the air.
The 10-year-old boy, whose name was not released, lay on the sidewalk, covered by a tarp. Somebody was pouring water over him, trying to cool him off.
The boy's father, also badly burned, stood by calling for help.
"You couldn't even tell that a plane hit the house," Reese said. "It just looked like the house exploded."
Duran, 22, said he walked the little boy over to nurses and firefighters. "He was burned so bad," Duran said.
The boy and his father were taken to hospitals in critical condition.
Cooper rushed next door to 356 Willowbay Ridge St., but couldn't find anyone. Janice Joseph, 24, was dead. So was her 6-month-old boy, Joseph Woodard, according to the Seminole County Sheriff's Office. Family members called him Josiah.
Cooper was later treated for smoke inhalation. Authorities called him a hero.
Some residents were paralyzed by the scene. Freddy Diaz, 43, who lives across from the wrecked houses, ran into his home to get some blankets and bottled water. But as he looked at the fire and smoke and the emergency responders, he just stood there.
"It was just frustrating," he said. "You try to help them and you just can't. You're here, you see everything and you can't do anything about it."
* * *
The neighborhood still smelled like smoke Tuesday evening, as investigators looked for clues.
But family members also came to mourn.
Betty Green, 42, walked up to the yellow tape surrounding her brother Joseph Woodard's home and nearly collapsed in tears. Woodard, who lost his wife and son, was working at an aluminum factory at the time of the crash.
"Oh, Joe!" she cried.
Green said her brother called her that morning, and she drove up from her home in West Palm Beach. She said his wife, Janice, whom he had been married to for five years, was "a beautiful person" who was going to law school. She said the couple has a 4-year-old daughter named Jurney who was at a friend's house when the accident happened.
She said her brother would fight to go on.
"He's a good man. He loved his family. This is going to be hard for him," she said. But, she added, "He's a strong man of God."
Information from Times wires and the Orlando Sentinel was used in this report.