Monday, March 05, 2012

SkyView speaks about fatal crash: Tracy Municipal Airport (KTCY), California

The chief operations officer for SkyView Aviation is facing vehicular manslaughter charges after a passenger in his car drowned in the Delta-Mendota Canal on Feb. 23.

According to police, Eric Rode-Olsen, 30, of Tracy, was driving an older-model BMW 328i when the car crashed through a chain-link fence, launched off a levy and flipped into the canal at about 11:40 p.m.

Rode-Olsen was reportedly traveling down one of the Tracy Municipal Airport runways before the crash with three Swedish pilots.

Authorities said three of the men escaped the swift waters of the canal, including Rode-Olsen. As of press time Thursday, March 1, the body of the last man, a 23-year-old from Sweden, had yet to be recovered.

The three pilots were part of a group of five Swedish men who came to Tracy a few weeks ago to increase their flight hours by renting aircraft from SkyView, said Craig Vincent, SkyView’s sales manager.

Late Wednesday, Vincent said that during  their time here, the men had grown close to a couple of SkyView employees, particularly Rode-Olsen, with whom they shared a common bond as Swedish countrymen.

Vincent said Rode-Olsen showed the pilots around Tracy during their visit, and they attended a SkyView employee’s birthday party at 6 p.m. the day of the crash. The pilots were all scheduled to fly back to Sweden on Monday, Feb. 27, he said.

“It’s important people understand this was something that had nothing to do with SkyView Aviation,” Vincent said Wednesday, breaking silence after SkyView initially declined several requests for comment. “He happens to be an employee here. They happened to be customers of SkyView. Happened well after hours. Not related to his employment or anything we were doing here at SkyView.”

Without disclosing details of the accident, Vincent said everyone at SkyView was distraught and supportive of Rode-Olsen, an employee at the company for more than four years.

“It’s a tragic accident,” Vincent said. “We feel for the family of those in the vehicle, including Eric and his family. I can’t imagine what the (victim’s) family is going through. Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved.”

Rode-Olsen was booked into San Joaquin County Jail in French Camp the day after the accident on charges of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence.

The owner of SkyView, Richard Ortenheim, bailed Rode-Olsen out of jail following his arraignment on Tuesday, Feb. 28.

Vincent said Ortenheim also hired a private attorney, Albert Ellis, to handle Rode-Olsen’s criminal proceedings.

“We’re all standing by him,” Vincent said. “He likes everybody, and everybody likes him. We’re all a family here. Just how this company is.”

Word spread quickly through the airport community in the days following the accident, according to John Favors, president of Tracy Airport Association.

“Everyone is in denial and shock and, like, wow,” Favors said. “SkyView trains a lot of Swedish pilots. They have these Swedish students come over here all the time.”

“Everyone is somber,” he added. “We’re all looking at it as a real tragedy. Eric’s life may well be destroyed over this, and someone else’s life was destroyed. Everyone is quite sad.”

Favors and other members of the airport community said the charges facing Rode-Olsen were out of character for the 30-year-old.

“The driver of the car is an extremely nice guy,” said one man, who asked that his name not be used. “When I heard about it, I said I can’t see him loaning his car. I can’t believe it. One of normally safe and sane friends. I felt they got it wrong. The whole thing is kind of strange and unbelievable. (You) don’t expect this — to have an auto accident on an airport and death by drowning.”

Ian Gregor, spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration’s Western-Pacific Region office, said Monday that Tracy airport officials did not report the crash to the FAA. However, he said that would not be necessary, because there were no regulatory violations.

“They didn’t break any federal regulations, so from our perspective, we can only talk to them about safety at the airport, but we can’t enforce anything at this time,” he said.

Rode-Olsen is scheduled to return to Manteca Superior Court on March 21 for further arraignment.

Rode-Olsen’s attorney had asked the judge at his arraignment on Tuesday if he would delay the next court appearance a few weeks to allow him time to gather additional evidence, including the results of Rode-Olsen’s toxicology tests. The results will determine whether there were any drugs or alcohol in Rode-Olsen’s system at the time of the accident.

Rode-Olsen remains free on $100,000 bail, which was lowered by Judge Ron Northup from $150,000. The bail reduction came after the defense attorney promised to keep his client’s Swedish passport locked in his office safe.

Vincent said it was his belief that drugs and alcohol were not a factor in the accident, and he didn’t understand the reasoning behind Rode-Olsen’s prosecution.

“In my mind, I don’t understand why they are pursuing this as a crime,” he said. “Someone died in a crash, and that’s a terrible thing. … I don’t understand why it’s not more than a tragic accident.”

Police officials said they planned to release the name of the drowning victim after his body was recovered from the canal.

Detective Tim Bauer said the Tracy Police Department issued a bulletin to other law enforcement agencies along the canal route to keep an eye out for the body.

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