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Zephyrhills mourns Richard Seufzer, 17, killed in crash of acrobatic plane

Each time a plane flew over the crowd gathered in Greg Seufzer's front yard Tuesday afternoon, he looked up and thought of his son.

Richard Seufzer, 17, died Monday as a passenger in a small plane that crashed into an orange grove east of Dade City. Seufzer was studying with professional aerobatic pilot Paul Lopez, 40, who also perished in the crash. The accident was still under investigation Tuesday.

More than a dozen of Richard's classmates from Zephyrhills High School came Tuesday to grieve with his family at their Thonotosassa home. The family had moved there a while back, but kept Richard at Zephyrhills for his senior year.

The visitors milled about on the lawn Richard had just cleaned up the weekend before. A plane droned over their heads and Richard's father shared a memory.

"He'd see a private jet fly by, and he'd put his arm around me and say, 'That's going to be us, Dad,' " Greg Seufzer, 39, said.

Richard wanted to join his father's welding business and work on airplane parts. That is, after he studied at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach. Richard hadn't heard back yet about his application.

At the beginning of the school year, Richard and other Zephyrhills 12th-graders began their senior school project. The students had all year to learn as much as possible about a subject of their choice. The project culminates in a research paper and presentation.

Richard picked aeronautics for his project. He posted a sign at the Zephyrhills Municipal Airport asking for help.

Twenty years earlier, Lopez had knocked on doors at the Van Nuys Airport in Los Angeles, begging to wash planes in exchange for flying lessons. He now lived alone in the Zephyrhills airport's one apartment. Lopez saw the sign and gave Richard a call.

"I think Paul saw a lot of himself in Richie," Seufzer told the crowd in his front yard.

Richard and Lopez had both become fascinated with planes watching air shows with their fathers — Richard in Tampa, Lopez two decades earlier in southern California.

Lopez played Iron Maiden in the cockpit — Richard's dad's music of choice. Lopez and the young man planned to go skydiving together on Richard's 18th birthday this year.

The friendship between the two was "incredible," Richard's father said. Lopez was the "other me."

The students told Richard's grandfather, who had flown in from Wisconsin, about the reverse dive the young man worked on after school at swim practice.

They presented his step-mother Darlene with signed poster boards.

The high school received state approval to postpone FCAT testing Tuesday so grief counselors could work with students. Near the end of the school day, Zephyrhills principal Gerri Painter found herself staring too long at a yearbook photo of Richard. She started to cry and moved the picture to a far corner of her desk.

"This is just 1 percent of the love you're seeing from the high school today," Zephyrhills guidance counselor Julie Moore told the family.

Richard's mom, Rhonda Seufzer, 43, stood a few feet away from the group with her son's soft beige blanket wrapped around her shoulders.

She and Richard's father are divorced. She lives in California, where she is taking care of a family member.

She watched as another plane flew overhead.

"I just wish he was on one," she told the group.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds and staff writers Camille Spencer and Jeffrey S. Solochek contributed to this report. Helen Anne Travis can be reached at htravis@sptimes.com or (813) 435-7312.

Zephyrhills mourns Richard Seufzer, 17, killed in crash of acrobatic plane 03/10/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 10, 2009 9:45pm]
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