NASCAR official’s husband dies in small plane crash

Published 12:27 pm Wednesday, July 11, 2007

By By TRAVIS REED, Associated Press Writer
SANFORD, Fla. — The husband of a NASCAR official and a pilot for the auto racing organization were among five people killed when a small plane crashed into a neighborhood Tuesday, setting two homes ablaze.
NASCAR confirmed 54-year-old Dr. Bruce Kennedy, a Daytona Beach plastic surgeon and husband of race circuit official Lesa France Kennedy, and 56-year-old Michael Klemm, a pilot with NASCAR Aviation, were among the dead. Kennedy is president of International Speedway Corporation, which owns or operates 13 of the nation’s major motorsports facilities, including Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.
Janice Joseph, 24, and her 6-month-old son, Joseph Woodard, were killed when the home they were in was hit by the plane, police said.
Also killed was a 4-year-old girl, Gabriela Dechat, who was in a second home. Her parents, Milagros Dechat, 33, and Peter Dechat, 36, were seriously injured and transported to Orlando Regional Medical Center, police said.
A 10-year-old boy also in that home was transported to Cincinnati Burn Center with burns over 80 percent to 90 percent of his body, authorities said.The boy’s name has not been released.
Matt Minnetto, an investigator with the Sanford Fire Department, said rescue crews arrived to a ‘‘heavy, dark column of smoke’’ worsened by airplane fuel. ‘‘The plane’s in numerous pieces throughout the five or six homes’ backyard,’’ he said.
The crash happened just after 8:30 a.m. in a new subdivision about 20 miles outside Orlando, full of two-story gray, tan and beige homes.
The plane was traveling from Daytona Beach to Lakeland when the pilot declared smoke in the cockpit. He tried to land at the Orlando Sanford International Airport, but crashed north of there, Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said.
It was not entirely clear who was flying the plane. NASCAR said it was Kennedy, but investigators said earlier Tuesday it was Klemm.
The airplane was registered to Competitor Liaison Bureau Inc., Bergen said. Online records from the Department of State Division of Corporations showed it registered under the name of William C. France, the NASCAR chairman who died last month at age 74. Lesa France Kennedy is France’s daughter.
In addition to losing her father and now her husband, Kennedy recently fell off a bike and broke both her arms.
Also injured, less seriously, was an off-duty firefighter who rushed into one of the homes without equipment. Minnetto said he suffered exhaustion and possible smoke inhalation.
Eric Domnitz, a food sales worker who lives just down the street from the crash, said the blaze was two times bigger than one of the houses. He hurried with a fire extinguisher to a horrific scene.
Lou-Ann Cappola, a schoolteacher who lives about a block away from the crash site, said residents of the subdivision are accustomed to noise from a nearby railyard. She didn’t think twice of it when she heard the crash.
NASCAR’s history is dotted with air disasters. In 2004, a plane owned by one of NASCAR’s most successful teams, Hendrick Motorsports, crashed on its way to a race, killing all 10 people aboard. Two years earlier, NASCAR team owner Jack Roush was critically injured in a small plane crash near Talladega. And in 1993, two NASCAR drivers, Davey Allison and Alan Kulwicki, were killed in separate air crashes.
Associated Press writers Sarah Larimer, Lisa Orkin Emmanuel, Adrian Sainz and Rasha Madkour in Miami and Ron Word in Daytona Beach contributed to this report.