Crash kills founder of Cape McDonald's

Friday, March 7, 2003

Ronald McDonald has lost a good friend.

As 13 of the fast-food restaurants around Southeast Missouri continue to fly their flags at half-staff, authorities are pointing to bad weather as a contributing factor in the Wednesday night airplane crash that took the life of Jerry Davis, the man who brought McDonald's to Cape Girardeau 35 years ago.

Meanwhile, friends and family members of both Davis and his flight instructor Kenneth Krongos -- who also was killed in the crash -- spoke warmly of the men, calling Davis a good father and hands-on businessman and Krongos a person who had dedicated his life to his family and teaching others to fly.

"I was devastated," said Lynn Petzoldt, the director of operations for the 13 McDonald's restaurants owned by Davis and his son, Shannon. "We all are. He was here one day smiling and the next he's gone. But he was a great person to work for."

Flying from Minnesota

The single-engine, six-seat plane crashed Wednesday night near Sparta, Ill., killing both men on board, police said Thursday. Davis, 60, of Cape Girardeau, and Krongos, 58, of Buncombe, Ill., died after the plane struck trees south of Sparta and crashed, said Master Sgt. Marc Melvin of the Illinois State Police.

The two men were en route to Cape Girardeau from Duluth, Minn., and had started to notice ice forming on the leased Beechcraft Bonanza's airplane's wings, Melvin said.

"Because of the ice on the wings, the plane was losing altitude, it finally struck the trees and broke apart," Melvin said. "Flights were delayed all over the Midwest because of the weather. They were just unfortunate to be up in it."

The 1985 Beechcraft Bonanza A-36, which has a 300-horsepower engine and travels at a cruise speed of about 195 mph, went down about 5 miles south of the airport, he said.

No one on the ground was injured. Workers from the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration will investigate further, he said. Sparta is located 68 miles north of Cape Girardeau.

Chris Betian, assistant manager of Hunter Airport in Sparta, said they flew past Sparta sometime before 11 p.m. and then turned around and tried to head back, he presumed because of the bad weather conditions.

Betian said the weather in Sparta wasn't conducive to flying. He said there was a 500-foot overcast layer -- meaning clouds got thick nearly 500 feet above the ground -- only 1.5 miles of visibility and temperatures below freezing. There also was some precipitation, though he said he wasn't sure whether it was rain or a mix of rain and sleet.

"Not that I'm saying that it was like that when they left Duluth," he said. "It could have changed and they didn't know it until they were in it. There are a million possibilities about what could have happened. But here, it wasn't a good night for flying."

The two men were flying back from a trip to buy another plane that would serve as the company plane, said Petzoldt, who began working at Davis' first McDonald's on Broadway when it opened in 1968.

Davis' son, Shannon, who is also a pilot, was in a different plane but diverted his craft to an airport in Alton, Ill., because of bad weather, Petzoldt said. Asked why Davis and Krongos didn't do the same, Petzoldt said he wasn't sure.

It is unclear who was piloting because the airplane had dual controls. Davis was in the left seat, so Melvin said investigators are assuming Davis was. But Davis was a student pilot. According to Cape Girardeau Regional Airport manager Bruce Loy, student pilots are not required to get a license, and Krongos easily could have been piloting from the right seat.

The only requirement for student pilots, Loy said, is that they need to have a licensed pilot flying with them. Krongos was a former American Airlines pilot with three different certifications.

Investigators were on the scene Thursday. The FAA filed a report that said the cause of the accident is officially listed as unknown. It said that the airplane was attempting to head back to the Sparta airport.

The National Transportation Safety Board is the lead investigating agency, FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Corey said. The agency said that investigations can take several months to a year to determine a "probable cause" to the accident, she said.

Time to mourn

Both men clearly had an impact on those around them.

"He loved everything about flying," said Krongos' adult son, Ken. "He liked everything from the littlest thing to the biggest. One of his passions was newer technology for airplanes. That's why they were going to Duluth, was to get a brand-new, top-of-the-line airplane."

Krongos had been an airline pilot for years in California before moving to the area about 10 years ago, his son said. Buncombe, Ill., is about 23 miles south of Marion. He had been instructing as a free-lance flight instructor at the Cape Girardeau airport, though he was not employed by the airport.

"Flying was his life's passion," Ken Krongos said. "Obviously there's going to be a bias here, but he was one of the most competent pilots around. That's why it doesn't make any sense how this happened."

Krongos is survived by his son and his wife, Julie.

Davis, who had sported a handlebar mustache for decades, was a lifelong Cape Girardeau resident who started the McDonald's restaurant on Broadway with his former father-in-law, who knew McDonald's founder Ray Kroc.

A few years later, they acquired the restaurant in Sikeston, Mo. Now, they own three in Cape Girardeau and one each in Jackson, Marble Hill, Advance, Benton, Miner, Charleston, Sikeston, Portageville, Malden and Dexter.

Davis recently tore down the McDonald's on Broadway to reconstruct a building that looked just like the 1968 version. In the past, Davis has also owned Royal N'Orleans and three eating establishments that have since closed: Ricardo's, Shakey's Pizza and Pfisters Drive-In.

Davis also served in the U.S. Army's Airborne Division from 1962 to 1965.

Petzoldt said Davis was semi-retired since last year. But in the old days, Davis could be seen working the drive-through, front counter or talking to the customers.

"It wasn't uncommon for Jerry to work Monday through Saturday," Petzoldt said.

Those who knew him described him as very private, but one who loved giving to children's charities and talking to customers.

"He was reserved, always standing in the background," said John Ferguson, who worked as McDonald's maintenance man for 15 years. "He never sought any publicity. Most people who ate at McDonald's saw him but never knew who he was. But he made it a good place to work."

Ralph Stroud got to know Davis and both were in the Kiwanis Club, where Stroud serves as secretary. Stroud spent Thursday morning putting together information about Davis for a tribute on the Kiwanis Club Web site and newsletter.

"He was just so enthused about flying," said Stroud, who is also a pilot. "Every week or so, he'd come in talking about what he'd done this week and what he'd do next week."

Taking life easy

Stroud said the crash was especially tragic considering that Davis was reaching a point in his life where he could take things easy -- he'd finished putting one son through medical school and turned the business over to another.

"He just got to the point where he could do what he wanted to do," Stroud said. "He was still in good health, had the money to do things and was really looking forward to it."

But sometimes life doesn't turn out that way.

"The good Lord takes you when he's ready," he said.

Davis is survived by his mother, Elsie May Davis of Cape Girardeau; two sons, Shannon Davis and Dr. Ryan Davis; a daughter, Jessica Morgan Davis and a brother, Phil Davis; and five grandchildren.

Visitation is Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Ford and Sons Mount Auburn Funeral Chapel.

335-6611, extension 137

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