CLEARWATER, Fla.(STMW) — A Round Lake man who loved to fly and was an experienced pilot was killed early Saturday, while his teenage daughter and her friend were injured when the small plane he was piloting for a spring break getaway crashed into a six-lane street in Florida.
Jeffrey Bronken, 53, died in the crash, Florida’s Pinellas County Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. David DiSano said in a statement. The two teenage girls, both 15, were injured. They were identified by police as Katherine Bronken, Jeffrey Bronken’s daughter, and Keyana Linbo, also of Round Lake. The girls were being treated with serious injuries at a local hospital, DiSano said Sunday afternoon.
This isn’t the first time the Bronken family has experienced a tragedy. On Dec. 19, 2009, Jeffrey Bronken’s daughter Christine Bronken died at the age of 20 in an early morning snowmobile crash in Three Lakes, Wisconsin, according to records from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Reports show she failed to follow the snowmobile route, lost control and tried to brake before going airborne and striking a home. Speed and alcohol were listed as factors in the fatal crash.
Early Saturday, Jeffrey Bronken and the teens were in the single-engine plane heading from the Chicago area to St. Pete/Clearwater airport in eastern Florida — about 30 miles east of Tampa — when the plane crashed in Clearwater about 4 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, authorities said. A family spokesman said the plane had departed from Campbell Airport in Grayslake.
The plane hit power lines before crashing head first into a median on a six-lane street, authorities said.
NTSB records show the same plane was involved in a crash on May 12, 1997 at Campbell Airport. A private pilot overran a landing, leaving the taxiway and coming to rest “nose down” in a small canal off the end of the roadway. The pilot wasn’t injured.
The plane, which was built in 1980, was owned by another private pilot at the time.
Reached by phone Saturday, Jeffrey Bronken’s son and wife declined comment. Neighbors said his wife flew to Florida as soon as she found out about the crash.
Jeffrey Bronken owned a Highland Park company called The Glass Man, Inc., which specializes in glass contracting for homes. FAA records show the fixed wing single-engine plane was registered to the glass business and that Bronken was licensed as a private pilot in October 2007.
Ken Hoxie, a neighbor who was chosen to be the family’s spokesman, said he has known the Bronken family for 15 years. Hoxie described Jeffrey Bronken as a “larger-than-life” type of guy, who was always helping out whenever he could in the neighborhood.
He said Jeffrey Bronken was taking his daughter “Katie” and her friend to Tampa for a couple of days for spring break.
Hoxie coached the younger Bronken, a freshman at Grant High School, in junior high volleyball: “She’s just a great person,” Hoxie said. He said his daughter and Katie Bronken “are like sisters.”
Hoxie was puzzled as to what happened with the plane, and described Jeffrey Bronken as “a very accomplished flyer.”
“He was always very conscientious about what he did, making sure he was up-to-date on everything [related to flying],” Hoxie said. “He always talked about it as a love of his.”
Hoxie said his family is shocked and saddened by the news: “It’s a shock. It’s a shame. It’s a fantastic family. You don’t understand, sometimes, why these things happen. All we can do is pray for the family.”
Lisa Roberts, another neighbor, said Jeffrey Bronken once went house to house to help neighbors install sprinkling systems.
“He was really active around the house. They always do their house up all year long. The landscaping was just groomed perfectly and they had all these beautiful mums,” Roberts said.
Both Jeffrey Bronken and his wife were often seen outside, grooming the plants.
Roberts said the Bronkens had company over frequently, and always had prom celebrations for their children.
The NTSB, FAA and the Pinellas County Sheriff’s office are investigating Saturday’s crash.
(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2014. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)