Memorial grows for crew killed in East County Learjet crash

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

As of Wednesday, a group of families and relatives posted flowers and photos from the crash site with handwritten messages to those they lost. It’s a grim tribute to the fallen medical crew: 68-year-old Laurie Gentz, 67-year-old Julian Bugaj, 52-year-old Tina Ward and 45-year-old Douglas Grande.

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

A home and some SDG & E power cords were damaged in the crash. No one on earth was injured.

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

“Our priority now is to support the welfare of the families of all our crew members,” the company said. “We are a close-knit air ambulance program united by our mission to take care of 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 we have lost, and we express our deepest sympathy to their families.”

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

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

The National Transportation Safety Board investigates the accident with reports of fatal accidents like this, which typically take 12 to 24 months to complete. A preliminary report is expected in about two weeks.

Meanwhile, GoFundMe campaigns were launched this week for the benefit of victims’ families:

  • A collection is in support of memorial expenses for Bugaj and has raised just over half of its $ 10,000 target; and
  • The other was launched by Ward’s family will pay into scholarships for “under-represented students working to advance their careers in the EMS.” So far, it has generated more than $ 17,000 in profits.


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