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Missouri governor killed

Oct. 18, 2000

Plane piloted by son crashes

By B.J. GOERGEN

Reporter

GOLDMAN, Mo. -- The effect of the deaths of Gov. Mel Carnahan, his son Roger and campaign adviser Chris Sifford, who were killed in an airplane crash just south of St. Louis Monday night, was felt by more people than those linked to one of the most highly contested senate races in the country.

Carnahan's opponent, Republican Sen. John Ashcroft, immediately suspended all advertising and other operations in the swing state after learning of the fatal crash and said, 'Obviously this is not a time for politics. This is a time for the state to come together.'

The state of Missouri has already taken steps to come together in the middle of the unexpected circumstances. Members of the state's government have been re-assigned to positions to finish the present term, and citizens of St. Louis are dealing with the loss.

'It is a tragedy that will be felt by Missourians for months to come,' said Nathan Cooper, a St. Louis attorney. 'These individuals gave their all for the cause of a good government.'

A recent college graduate agreed.

'It is sad to see anyone's life end earlier than it has to, but especially when the person has dedicated themselves to public service,' said Doug McGraw, a graduate of Saint Louis University in Missouri.

In addition to dealing with the concerns of grieving citizens, Missouri had to deal with questions surrounding whether or not Tuesday's final presidential debate in St. Louis should be postponed. Those were answered by Carnahan's wife, Jean, in a statement.

Jean Carnahan said, 'Because my husband cherished our democracy and its expression, he would very much want the debate scheduled for tonight to go on.'

Jean Carnahan, whose son, Roger, 44, was piloting the airplane, has said little to the media, but was on the minds of Missouri citizens after they heard the news of the democratic governor's death.

'I am a family-oriented person, and I thought of Mrs. Carnahan immediately,' said Mary Winkelmann, a retired resident of Labadie, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis. 'My heart goes out to her. I can only imagine how horrible it would be to lose your husband and son in the same day.'

Presidential candidates Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush both made statements concerning the accident. In a written statement, Bush praised his fellow governor as 'a thoughtful, distinguished man who was dedicated to quality education and excellence in public service.' Gore said he was 'deeply saddened' and hailed Carnahan's work on education and other issues.

The Missouri senate race, seen as one of the key races in the Democrats' effort to retake control of the Senate, had been a dead heat for months. Carnahan's name will stay on the Nov. 7 ballot because the deadline for changing it was Oct. 13, Secretary of State Bekki Cook said.

Lt. Gov. Roger Wilson will serve out the remainder of Carnahan's term, until Jan. 8.

If more voters cast ballots for Carnahan than Ashcroft on Nov. 7, the seat would become vacant when Ashcroft's current term ends Jan. 3, Cook said. Wilson, a Democrat, would have constitutional authority to appoint a senator to fill the vacancy through the November 2002 general election, when the seat would be up for election, Cook said.

Carnahan had been expected at the campaign rally at 8 p.m. in New Madrid, about 125 miles south of the crash site, described as a hilly, wooded area.

State Sen. Jerry Howard, who was at the rally, said Roy Temple, executive director of the Missouri Democratic Party, got a page around 8 p.m. from Sifford. Sifford told Temple the governor's plane had encountered lightning and was going to return to St. Louis or Jefferson City, Howard said.

Tom Hunter, who lives near the crash site, said he heard the plane flying overhead.

'I thought, 'What a crazy person in this kind of weather.' Next thing, sounded like it was in a very steep dive, the engine was just screaming,' Hunter told St. Louis TV station KMOV.

He said he heard a loud explosion and the sky turned red. 'That was it,' Hunter said. 'It was total silence. I told my wife to call 911.'

In Jefferson City at dawn Tuesday, Susie Shultz, a state employee, brought red mums to the governor's mansion.

'I thought he was wonderful,' she said. 'He did so much for our state. Mel Carnahan was the education man. He was for the right things.'

Carnahan, son of a seven-term congressman, won his first public election at age 26 as a municipal judge in his hometown of Rolla. He was elected to the Missouri House of Representatives two years later and served two terms before becoming state treasurer.

In 1988, Carnahan was elected lieutenant governor. Four years later, he won the governor's office in a landslide and was re-elected in 1996. He was barred by state law from seeking a third consecutive term as governor.

'Governor Carnahan always believed public service was a noble calling,' Nachtigal said. 'We will miss him dearly.'

President Clinton called Carnahan's wife, Jean, to express condolences while he was at the Mideast summit in Egypt. The couple had four children.

'He's known him for a long time. They've worked together on a lot of issues,' Clinton spokesman Jake Siewert said.

In 1976, another Senate challenger in Missouri, U.S. Rep. Jerry Litton, died in a plane crash as he and his family were flying to a victory celebration the night he won the Democratic nomination.

The last governor to die in office was Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles on Dec. 12, 1998. The 68-year-old collapsed while exercising in the governor's mansion gymnasium. South Dakota Gov. George Mickelson died in 1993 when the state's airplane slammed into a silo in eastern Iowa.

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