Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Authorities identify Wesley Chapel family in plane crash

Jeffrey and Ronni Ulrich pose with their daughters Alexa, left, and Carlie. The family perished Friday when their personal airplane crashed into a high school in Arizona.

Handout copied from Myspace | Times

Jeffrey and Ronni Ulrich pose with their daughters Alexa, left, and Carlie. The family perished Friday when their personal airplane crashed into a high school in Arizona.

WESLEY CHAPEL — The Ulrichs were on a family vacation, flying through the southern states on their way to the Grand Canyon.

But on Friday afternoon, only a day into their trip, the small aircraft carrying the family — Jeffrey, 50, Ronni, 47, Alexa Rae, 15, and Carlie Kenna, 5 — crashed into an eastern Arizona high school, killing all four aboard.

Apache County sheriff's Sgt. Richard Guinn confirmed Monday that the family, who lived in the Seven Oaks community of Wesley Chapel, were victims in the horrible crash.

Jeffrey's 1976 single-engine Piper Saratoga nosedived into Round Valley High School in Eagar, about an hour's flight from the Grand Canyon, soon after departing an airstrip in Springerville, Guinn said. The plane circled the area two or three times before it suddenly crashed and exploded.

What caused the six-seater to crash, Guinn said, is still a mystery. Federal investigators transported the wreckage to a storage facility in Phoenix, where they will reconstruct the scene for clues, though an official investigation may take up to six months.

In a statement Monday, family members said Jeff was a special agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Jeff, they said, "was a very meticulous pilot with over 20 years flying experience."

"As a Marine and an Officer of the Law, he was highly trained to respond to stressed and intense situations," the family said in the statement. "We know from reports from Arizona that Jeff responded heroically to try and protect his family and those on the ground."

Alexa, known to friends as Lexi, was a cheerleader and runner for the cross country and track teams at Wiregrass Ranch High School.

Her friend, Kayla South, said Alexa had made her feel welcome when she was the new kid at John Long Middle School.

"She made my day. She shook the nervous out of me and made me smile," South wrote in an e-mailed statement to the St. Petersburg Times. "She helped me a lot that year. I'll never forget her. I'll miss her."

Carlie had just finished kindergarten at Seven Oaks Elementary, where Alexa sometimes volunteered.

"She was a wonderful, amazing kindergartner, just full of life, full of what kindergartners do," said school principal BJ Smith. "Just a wonderful, wonderful family. My heart is broken."

The family said funeral arrangements are pending.

Friends of the Ulrichs left bouquets, balloons and toys in the front yard of the family's home by Monday. A child's drawing of a house, labeled "To Carlie, From Sophia," sat on the front porch.

"I loved that girl," said Mariah Schwartz, a teenager who delivered a YouTube eulogy for Alexa on Monday. The girls, Schwartz said, had met at a youth group retreat at Congregation Beth Am in Carrollwood. "I'm devastated."

Others shared their grief online. Another friend uploaded a musical tribute on YouTube with photos of Alexa and her friends at school, making silly faces with friends, dressed formally for dances and in track uniforms. Neighbors posted their condolences on the Seven Oaks community website.

"This is a terrible loss," resident Andy Denbo wrote. "Jeff was an active member of our Crime Watch and brought his vast experience and knowledge to our team. The family will be deeply missed."

Flight records show the Ulrichs' plane left Ocala International Airport on Thursday before stopping at regional airports in Meridian, Miss., and Frederick, Okla.

On Friday, the plane left the Sheppard Air Force Base and municipal airport in Wichita Falls, Texas, and touched down in Springerville, Ariz., later that morning.

Dr. Bruce Parks, the chief medical examiner for the Pima County Medical Examiner's Office in Tucson, said the remains would likely be inspected Tuesday.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Authorities identify Wesley Chapel family in plane crash 06/14/10 [Last modified: Monday, June 14, 2010 11:22pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Water Hogs: During drought, hundreds of Tampa Bay homes guzzled a gallon of water a minute


    When Amalie Oil president Harry Barkett plunked down $6.75-million for his Bayshore Boulevard mansion, he picked up 12.5 bathrooms, a pool, a hot tub, an elevator and a deck bigger than some one-bedroom apartments.

    During one of the worst droughts in the Tampa Bay region's history, hundreds of houses used more than a gallon of water a minute. ALESSANDRA DA PRA  |   Times

  2. PolitiFact Florida checks out Rick Baker's talking point about the growth of St. Petersburg's A-rated schools


    Rick Baker has used mailers, forums and social media to relay one big message in his campaign for St. Petersburg mayor: Schools in St. Petersburg saw drastic improvements when he was mayor from 2001 to 2010.

    Rick Baker, candidate for St. Petersburg mayor
  3. Lady Antebellum's Charles Kelly talks family, songwriting and more before Tampa show

    Music & Concerts

    A while back at the Grammys, Charles Kelley found himself in the same room as Paul McCartney. The Lady Antebellum singer, a seven-time Grammy winner in his own right, couldn't work up the courage to say hello.

    Lady Antebellum perform at Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre on Friday. Credit: Eric Ray Davidson
  4. Clearwater suspect due in court after 9 die in sweltering San Antonio truck


    SAN ANTONIO — Nine people are dead and the death toll could rise after emergency crews pulled dozens of people from a sweltering tractor-trailer found parked outside a Walmart in the midsummer Texas heat, victims of what officials said was an immigrant-smuggling attempt gone wrong.

    San Antonio police officers investigate the scene where eight people were found dead in a tractor-trailer loaded with at least 30 others outside a Walmart store in stifling summer heat in what police are calling a horrific human trafficking case, Sunday, July 23, 2017, in San Antonio. [Associated Press]
  5. Email warning ignored before St. Pete started spewing sewage


    ST. PETERSBURG — A draft report lays blame for the city's sewage crisis squarely on the administration of Mayor Rick Kriseman and a cascading series of errors that started with the now infamous shuttering of the Albert Whitted Water Reclamation Facility in 2015.

    Signs at North Shore Park in St. Petersburg warn people in September 2016 to stay out of the water due to contamination from partially treated sewage from the city's overwhelmed sewer system. St. Petersburg dumped up to 200 million gallons of sewage over 13 months from 2015-16. A new state report blames much of the crisis on mistakes made by the administration of Mayor Rick Kriseman, but also critcizes past administrations. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]