The death of a Round Lake father, killed in a small plane crash early Saturday morning near Tampa, Fla., marks the second tragedy for his family.
Jeffrey Bronken, 53, who was piloting the plane, was killed in the crash that left his 15-year-old daughter and another Round Lake teen seriously injured. Katherine Bronken was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, where she was in critical condition Saturday night. Another passenger, Keyana Linbo, 15, was in serious condition.
The Bronkens lost another family member not long ago. Jeffrey Bronken's 20-year-old daughter, Christine, a former honors student and cheerleader at Grant Community High School in Fox Lake, was killed in a snowmobiling accident in December 2009.
Ken Hoxie, a longtime friend and neighbor of the Bronkens, wondered why another tragedy would strike such a "good family."
He described Jeffrey Bronken, who grew up in Northbrook, as a proud father and devoted husband who never missed his kids' basketball games.
"Oh God, I'm going to miss him dearly," Hoxie said. "He's bigger than life."
At 6-foot-5, Bronken was a robust man who still managed to make everyone around him feel at ease with his friendly, outgoing personality, Hoxie said. He often brought neighbors together for barbecues, when he manned the grill and cooked his prized crabcakes.
When shoulder surgery sidelined one neighbor, Bronken shoveled his driveways and paths over one of the snowiest winters on record.
"It's going to be boring without Jeff around," Hoxie said. "He was always active, very much a family man."
Flying was his love.
Jeffrey Bronken and the two girls were headed to Florida for a spring break trip and planned to spend a couple of days there, Hoxie said. At 10:20 p.m., Katherine Bronken tweeted to a friend, "We just landed in Nashville."
"He always appeared to me to be very conscientious about everything related to flying," said Hoxie, calling Jeffrey Bronken a veteran pilot.
The single-engine plane, en route to Florida from Chicago, crashed at about 4 a.m. near Clearwater.
The 1980 Piper aircraft took off from Chicago around 6:30 p.m. Friday evening. It was traveling to St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport and crashed about eight miles north of its destination. It came to a rest with its nose to the ground on the median of a six-lane street in Pinellas County, authorities said. No one was injured on the ground, but the plane clipped a two-inch-thick power line strung between two towers, shutting off electricity to the area.
It's unclear what caused the crash or whether Bronken was trying to land on the street. According to preliminary information from the Federal Aviation Administration, he had radioed to air traffic controllers that he was having fuel problems.
The fixed-wing plane is registered to Inman Glass Inc. of Highland Park, also known as Glass Man Inc., a business owned by Jeffrey Bronken, according to FAA records.
The records show Jeffrey Bronken secured a private pilot's license in October 2007 and also state a requirement to wear corrective lenses.
Katherine Bronken is a student at Grant High and a Chicago Blackhawks and Bulls fan, according to her Facebook page. She is the sister of Christine and of Tom Bronken, a former senior guard with Grant High's Bulldogs basketball team.
Grant Community High School District 124 Superintendent Christine Sefcik said the entire school community is grieving over the "tragic accident."
"The Bronken family has been through unimaginable loss," she said in an emailed statement. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to both the Bronken and Linbo families. The school is standing ready to provide whatever support is necessary to help both families, our students, and our staff through this incredibly difficult time."
While the school will be closed for spring break next week, counselors will be available if students need them, Sefcik said.
The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash.
News services and the Tampa Bay Times contributed to this report.