Memorial grows for crew killed in East County Learjet crash

Local

EL CAJON, Calif. – A memorial is growing on Pepper Drive in unincorporated El Cajon where a small jet crashed Monday night, killing all four people on board.

Starting Wednesday, a group of families and loved ones laid down flowers and photos at the crash site with handwritten messages for those they lost. It is a somber tribute to the fallen medical aircrew: 68-year-old Laurie Gentz, 67-year-old Julian Bugaj, 52-year-old Tina Ward and 45-year-old Douglas Grande.

The crew from Aeromedevac Air Ambulance had transported a patient to Orange County and were flying back to Gillespie Field in El Cajon when their Learjet 35A aircraft crashed in stormy conditions in the 1200 block of Pepper Drive, a little more than a mile from the runway.

One home and some SDG&E powerlines were damaged in the crash. No one on the ground was hurt.

In a statement this week, Aeromedevac said the loss of their colleagues has left “an indescribable void.”

“Our priority now is to support the well-being of the families of all our crew members,” the company said. “We are a close-knit air ambulance program that is united by our missions to care for our patients. Our team’s commitment to helping others has always been inspiring.

“We are honored and blessed to have worked with the crew members that we have lost, and we extend our heartfelt condolences to their families.”

Delivering flowers to the memorial site Thursday, a nearby resident told FOX 5 that the crash has had a devastating impact on the community.

“People lost their lives and there’s not even any bodies,” the woman said. “It’s taken the neighborhood very hard, been very hard on the neighborhood and for their families.”

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash with reports in deadly crashes like this typically requiring 12 to 24 months to complete. A preliminary report is expected in about two weeks.

In the meantime, GoFundMe campaigns were launched this week to benefit the victims’ families:

  • One fundraiser is to support memorial expenses for Bugaj and has raised a little more than half of its $10,000 goal; and
  • The other launched by Ward’s family will pay into scholarships for “underrepresented students working on furthering their careers in EMS.” Thus far, it has generated more than $17,000 in proceeds.

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