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Victim of crash declared brain dead

Stephen R. Barton was looking forward to spending the summer at his family's vacation home in the Bahamas before returning to Florida Atlantic University for his senior year.

He left his 25-foot sailboat in a friend's care and put on hold plans for a human-powered submarine he hoped would break the world speed record for vehicles of that type.

He never got to the Bahamas. And the submarine he designed may never be built.

Barton, 20, of Hernando Beach, was declared brain dead at 8:45 a.m. Tuesday, Pasco County sheriff's spokesman Jon Powers said. A spokesman at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa said Barton remained on life support Tuesday evening.

Barton was the most seriously injured when the plane carrying him, his parents, his sister and her boyfriend crashed Monday morning, shortly after taking off from a private airstrip in central Pasco County.

Three others remained hospitalized Tuesday. Barton's mother, Patricia, 48, a counselor at Springstead High School in Spring Hill, was in critical but stable condition at Bayfront Medical Center after surgery to repair internal injuries. His sister, Nicole, 17, was at St. Joseph's and was doing well, family friend Jody Sizemore said. Nicole's boyfriend, Daryl Naughton, 19, of Weeki Wachee, was in stable condition at Bayfront.

Barton's father, Stephen J. Barton, 48, an independent contractor, suffered a fractured wrist and walked away from the crash. He was flying the single-engine Piper Cherokee 6 when it went down about 9 a.m. Monday in scrub oak about a quarter-mile north of the strip.

"After takeoff, the plane apparently lost power and crashed into the trees," said Mary Ann Cassano, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration. She said the plane was flying under visual flight rules, which means it was not in contact with air traffic controllers and did not have a registered flight plan.

Sizemore, who kept the Bartons' plane at his home in Pilot Country Acres, a community for pilots that owns the private air strip, said he didn't see the Bartons take off. He said he was in the shower when a neighbor called to say a plane had crashed.

Sizemore got in his own plane, took off and located the crash site from the air. He landed and went over to find the plane upside-down, its fuselage burned.

"When I got over there, I got kind of a sick feeling, you know. I didn't expect to see anybody alive," he said.

Barton family members refused requests for interviews from the news media.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash and will release information next week, Cassano said.

Powers said the Pasco Sheriff's Office is finished with its inquiry unless federal officials ask for help. At the FAA's request, he said, deputies collected the wreckage and took it to an impound facility in Land O'Lakes.

Bob Hoppers, an FAA spokesman, said Monday that the elder Barton had not updated his medical certification to allow him to fly. Cassano said Tuesday that he could face disciplinary action, including a permanent loss of his pilot's license.

The younger Barton also held a private pilot's license, but he was better known for building submarines that were driven through the water as one would pedal a bicycle. He used to try out his designs in the canal beside the family's Hernando Beach home.

A submarine Barton designed while a student at Central High School made him the first Hernando County student to win the International Science and Engineering Fair. Barton's name always came up when awards were handed out, said Edd Poore, Central High's former principal.

"He was really a model student," Poore said.

In 1991, Barton, then 16, became the youngest entrant ever in the international human-powered submarine races held annually in Riviera Beach, but was disqualified when his submarine left the course. He tried again two years later, but the sub sank during trial runs.

His skill at designing submarines led Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton to recruit him to study ocean engineering after his graduation from Central in 1993.

Raymond McAllister, a professor of ocean engineering, decided Florida Atlantic needed Barton after seeing his entry in the 1991 race.

"I was real impressed. This young man had built one hell of a machine," said McAllister, now retired.

Barton loved the ocean, said Ken Holappa, a graduate student at Florida Atlantic. He and Barton lived next to each other at a small marina in Deerfield Beach _ Barton on his sailboat and Holappa on a powerboat.

For the past two months, Barton had worked on Florida Atlantic's project to design a robot submarine, one of few undergraduates given such a job, McAllister said. Barton had used his past experience to help make the sub's propeller more efficient, said Karl Heeb, a design engineer on the project.

At the time of the plane crash, Barton also was designing a submarine he hoped would break the world speed record for human-powered submarines and was just about to start building it, Heeb said.

"He was the type of guy that if you just told him what to do he could do it," he said.

Most weekends, Barton went to Biscayne Bay to take part in sailboat races, said Holappa.

"Every weekend it was a debate for him to study or go on the sail race back in Miami," he said.

McAllister said the department will establish a scholarship fund in Barton's memory.

"The whole field of ocean engineering has lost a remarkable young man," he said.

_ Staff writers T. Christian Miller, Teresa D. Brown and Kelly Ryan contributed to this report.