Florida plane crash claims five lives

Husband of racing executive was one of two passengers in private plane that wrecked houses
Wednesday, July 11, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:39 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

SANFORD, Fla. — A small plane carrying the husband of a NASCAR executive crashed into a neighborhood Tuesday and engulfed two houses in flames, killing both people aboard the aircraft and three others on the ground.

The pilot had reported smoke in the cockpit and was trying to make an emergency landing when the twin-engine plane went down in suburban Orlando, officials said.

NASCAR confirmed that 54-year-old Dr. Bruce Kennedy, a Daytona Beach plastic surgeon and husband of International Speedway Corp. President Lesa France Kennedy, and NASCAR Aviation pilot Michael Klemm, 56, were among the dead.

It was not entirely clear who was flying the plane. NASCAR said it was Kennedy, but investigators said earlier Tuesday it was Klemm.

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.

Eric Domnitz, who lives just down the street from the crash site, hurried to the scene with a fire extinguisher and said he saw some of the victims.

“It’s in my head. The woman was just melting. It looked like her skin was just melting off,” he said. “The guy, he was melting. He looked like wax.”

Matt Minnetto, an investigator with the Sanford Fire Department, said the plane itself was scattered in several pieces. The crash spilled aviation fuel, contributing to the fire’s spread.

A firefighter who responded to the blaze was also hurt trying to reach the victims.

The twin-engine Cessna 310 had been traveling from Daytona Beach to Lakeland when the pilot reported smoke in the cockpit shortly before the crash, said Kathleen Bergen with the Federal Aviation Administration.

The pilot was trying to land at the Orlando Sanford International Airport when the plane went down about a mile or two north of the airport, Bergen said.

The plane was registered to Competitor Liaison Bureau Inc. of Daytona Beach. Records show the company is registered under the name of William C. France, the late chairman of NASCAR who died June 4 at his Daytona Beach home.

Lesa France Kennedy, whose husband died in the plane crash, is France’s daughter. International Speedway Corp., of which she is president, owns or operates 13 of the nation’s major motorsports facilities.

Busch Stadium Beetles

ST. LOUIS — The shiny black beetles that have descended on Busch Stadium in recent weeks may be a nuisance, but they won’t hurt anyone.

That’s according to Saint Louis Zoo bug expert Bob Merz, who said the sturdy, tank-like insects with the hard shell body are just passing through, perhaps in pursuit of a mate.

Merz, the zoo’s manager of invertebrates, said the “ground beetles,” about a half-inch to three-quarters of an inch long, take flight to find their special someone.

He said they will move on to the next destination in a week or so. Those that escape extermination, that is.

Mike Bertani, director of operations at Busch Stadium, said Tuesday the beetles are being sprayed this week while the Cardinals are away.

“We have a problem. We’re spraying for them,” Bertani said, declining to comment further.

Fans say they’ve seen the beetles hovering around the lights and bouncing around in the stands. Some are known to make a clicking sound.

In the insect’s oh-so-brief life, basically a year, it transforms from an egg to larva to a pupa, the early stage of its becoming a beetle, usually in June and July.

It pops out of the ground in mid-July to August for its fourth and final stage — as an adult beetle — when it looks for a mate to produce the next generation.

Warmer temperatures may have sped up the process this year, Merz said.

The stadium’s bright lights and abundant food source — other insects _ probably attracted the beetles, he said. When they eat, they emit a scent designed to attract a mate _ to start the life cycle all over again.

“I don’t see this as an ongoing problem,” Merz said. “It probably will right itself in the next few weeks.”

But in the meantime, the open-air stadium creates free access from miles away.

“They’re making their way toward the light, where the food is, and where things might smell right,” Merz said.

People with “morbid fears” of cockroaches might be afraid of the near look-alike ground beetle, Merz said.

But even they have a bad rap.

Merz said cockroaches are harmless. It’s the clutter and filth that attract them that pose health problems.

Oden to have tonsils out

PORTLAND, Ore. — Top draft pick Greg Oden needs to have his tonsils removed and is expected to miss the rest of the Portland Trail Blazers’ summer league games.

After he tapes the ESPY awards in Los Angeles, he will undergo a tonsillectomy Saturday, at the Vancouver Clinic in nearby Vancouver, Wash., the team said.

Recovery time is expected to be two to three weeks.

“Greg felt that this was the right decision to make in the interests of his health, and we support that decision 100 percent,” Trail Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard said. “The sooner he gets the procedure done, the sooner he can get back on the court at full strength.”

Oden, a 7-foot center who played one season at Ohio State, was the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.

In his summer league debut, Oden scored six points and had two rebounds before leaving with 10 fouls, the maximum allowed in the summer league. The Blazers lost 74-66 to the Boston Celtics.

In his second game against Dallas, a fatigued Oden finished with 13 points, five rebounds and nine fouls. The Mavericks won 72-68.

Oden will miss Sunday’s matchup with Seattle that would have pitted him against No. 2 pick Kevin Durant.

“They’ll make more money during the regular season,” Oden jokingly said earlier this week.

Oden will also miss the U.S. Senior National Team’s minicamp July 20-22 in Las Vegas. He is invited to train with the Americans in August before the FIBA Americas tournament if he has recovered. That would give him extra time with Portland coach Nate McMillan, who is an assistant under U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Suzuki close to contract

SAN FRANCISCO — Ichiro Suzuki is closing in on a contract extension with the Seattle Mariners.

“We’re still talking but we’re not at the point where we have anything to announce,” Suzuki’s agent, Tony Attanasio, said Tuesday.

Suzuki, who was set to start in center field and bat leadoff for the American League in Tuesday night’s All-Star game, would not say when a deal might be reached. The Mariners had no comment.

“Whatever happens, everybody will know in the future, whenever that might be,” Suzuki said through an interpreter before batting practice. “Maybe three hours from now, maybe after the season.”

The Seattle Times reported on its Web site Tuesday that the extension could pay the two-time AL batting champion and 2001 AL MVP close to $100 million over five years.

The 33-year-old Suzuki is in the final year of a $41 million, four-year contract. The seven-time All-Star said during spring training that he planned to test his value on the free agent market this winter.

But he has changed his stance in recent weeks, certainly in part because the Mariners are playing well.

They put together a strong and surprising first half, entering the All-Star break with a 49-36 record and just 21/2 games back of the Los Angeles Angels in the AL West.

Suzuki is hitting .359 with 61 runs, 128 hits, 39 RBIs, and 23 stolen bases in 25 attempts. Suzuki set the single-season record for hits with 262 in 2004. He has gotten at least 200 hits in each of his first six years in the majors.

His willingness to stay in Seattle also might have become stronger since the abrupt resignation of manager Mike Hargrove on July 1.

Hargrove said his “passion has begun to fade.”

The relationship between Suzuki and Hargrove was tenuous at times, but both insisted their differences were in the past. Hargrove insisted his decision to step down had nothing to do with any disputes with players or the front office.

The Mariners promoted bench coach John McLaren for the rest of the year. He and Suzuki get along well and developed a strong relationship during Suzuki’s rookie year in 2001. Seattle matched a major league record with an AL-best 116 wins that year, and Suzuki was named AL Rookie of the Year and MVP.

This season marks the first time in his professional career — either with Seattle or the Orix Blue Wave in Japan — that Suzuki has played in the final season of a contract. In spring training, he sounded ready to test the market and see what his value would be to another team.

“I’ve played 15 years of professional baseball and I have never filed for free agency. I have never had the choice, to choose for myself which road I want to take,” Suzuki said in February. “So if you ask me is it possible that I will go to free agency, yes, it is possible.

“But if you ask me what are my feelings toward it, at this point I cannot express it. I am not even sure myself. But what I can say is my mind is full of having the best season possible.”

Suzuki had a club-record 25-game hitting streak in June and hit safely in 55 of his last 59 games before the All-Star break.

On Monday’s media session leading into the All-Star game, Suzuki was reveling in the Mariners’ success of late — a far improvement from recent years.

“The team is completely different than last year ... the mental state is different and how everyone is taking it is totally different than last year,” he said. “There have been seasons in the past where the season would already be over at this point.”

Crosby signs 5-year, $43.5 million extension with Penguins

PITTSBURGH — Sidney Crosby has a new contract before his 20th birthday and his eye on the Stanley Cup for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The NHL MVP and scoring champion signed a five-year extension through the 2012-13 season worth $43.5 million. The deal leaves room for the team to re-sign other young stars, such as Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal, in the coming seasons.

“It feels great, especially with the group of guys we have, to know I’m going to be able to grow with these guys and spend a while with them,” Crosby said Tuesday. “To have that sense of security, it definitely feels good.”

The three-year contract Crosby signed as a rookie lasts through the coming season, and the five-year extension keeps him under contract for the next six seasons. Crosby may negotiate a new deal shortly before he turns 26, when he should be in his prime, agent Pat Brisson said.

“The main goal here was that we had to establish that Sidney is all about winning,” Brisson said. “He wanted to obviously help general manager Ray Shero put the right numbers together to help the team. Building a winner is key to him.”

Crosby, who turns 20 next month, won the Hart Trophy last month to become the league’s youngest MVP since Wayne Gretzky.

The Penguins made Crosby the youngest captain in league history after last season, when he led the NHL with 120 points (36 goals, 84 assists). He helped the Penguins win 47 games after they won only 22 the season before.

The Penguins’ 47-point improvement was the fourth best in NHL history. They were eliminated in five games by eventual Eastern Conference champion Ottawa in the first round of the playoffs.

“Individual honors and scoring championships are great, but my No. 1 goal is to win the Stanley Cup,” Crosby said. “I’d love to be a part of bringing the Cup back here to Pittsburgh.”

General manager Ray Shero called Crosby a “tremendous asset to the organization” and termed the negotiations “very amicable and cordial.”

“We had common ground and a lot of that had to do with Sidney’s desire to stay in Pittsburgh,” Shero said.

Crosby’s deal includes a signing bonus of more than $5 million and is front-loaded. That means he’ll make more in the early years, though a yearly breakdown was not immediately available.

Crosby’s salary-cap value each year of the deal is $8.7 million. The number has other significance: Crosby wears No. 87 and was born Aug. 7, 1987.

“It seems like a pretty good number. I thought it was kind of unique so I’m happy with that,” said Crosby, who said he’s celebrating the deal by spending some time with his parents.

The deal also reflected Crosby’s desire to have his young teammates remain in town as well.

“I think it was important just to do what was right for everyone,” Crosby said. “We have a unique situation with our team with so many great young players. I think we all want to be there and hopefully it’s a step in the right direction.”

Under the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement, no player can make more than 20 percent of a team’s cap value, which is now $50.3 million. That means Crosby could have earned up to $10.06 million a year.

Since few, if any, players in the league could argue they’re worth more than Crosby, his $8.7 million average is likely to keep the price of other NHL superstars well below the maximum.

“We could have done a long-term deal and all that, but it’s fair to Sidney and the team to do it this way and not take every dime from the team, but also not to lock him into an eight- or 10-year deal,” Brisson said.

Crosby is set to earn a base salary of $850,000 this season, though he’s expected to earn about four times that much with performance bonuses.

The Penguins have concentrated on signing players to fill roles Shero felt the team lacked in its brief playoff appearance _ the team’s first since 2001.

The biggest free-agent signings were $5 million, two-year deals with two former Stanley Cup winners, right wing goal-scorer Petr Sykora and defenseman Darryl Sydor.

The Penguins also re-signed their best young defenseman, Ryan Whitney, to a $24 million, six-year contract; signed backup goaltender Dany Sabourin; and re-signed steady defenseman Rob Scuderi.

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