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    Plane that crashed in gulf is linked to Tampa lawyer

    By Times staff writer

    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 5, 2001

    A partner in a Tampa law firm may have been piloting a small plane found in pieces in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Mississippi, officials said.

    At 2:40 p.m. Saturday afternoon, the airport tower in Gulfport, Miss., called the U.S. Coast Guard to report it had lost radar contact with a plane that was flying over the gulf near Gulfport.

    "It was on radar, and then wasn't," said U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Jesami Statesir, who is based in New Orleans.

    The Coast Guard searched the area with several aircraft and a 41-foot boat plus two boats from the Harrison County, Miss., sheriff's office.

    The Coast Guard located some aircraft debris floating in the gulf shortly after arriving on the scene.

    "We didn't recover a body," Statesir said.

    The plane was a 1976 Piper Lance, PA-32-300. A flight plan for that plane had been filed by Lawrence Keith Stephens, 41, of Tampa. Statesir was not sure where Stephens took off from. According to the flight plan, he was headed to Beaumont, Texas.

    "Yesterday was real bad weather, and we can only guess what went wrong. We don't know," Statesir said.

    Stephens, who goes by his middle name, Keith, is a patent attorney dealing with new technology companies in Silicon Valley, Calif. He joined Carlton Fields late last year and traveled constantly between Carlton Fields' branch office in San Jose, Calif., and Tampa.

    In September, he bought an $800,000 house on W Parkland Avenue in Hyde Park. He and his wife, Sunee D. Stephens, 42, got married in Texas when they were both 22 and have been married for nearly 20 years.

    Stephens has been licensed as a private pilot for at least eight years, records show.

    The Harrison County Sheriff's Office is investigating the accident.

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