Checotah community deals with tragedy

Kevin Herron, center, and his seven-year-old son Gavin, right, have fun riding logs with Gavin's uncle David Ward during a family outing in Checotah. Kevin and Gavin along with David's sister and Kevin's wife Holley and Kevin's father Paul were killed in a plane crash on Friday outside of Chester, Arkansas, in Crawford County.

Amanda Schulz of Checotah said the Herron family is very special to her.

Paula Herron, also a Checotah resident, was a home health nurse for Schulz's special-needs son for seven years. Paula's husband, Paul, 57, along with her son Kevin, 32, Kevin's wife Holley, 29, and their 7-year-old son Gavin were killed Friday night as a result of injuries resulting from a plane crash in Crawford County, Arkansas, just outside the town of Chester.

Paula "was in my home 10-12 hours a day, three to four days a week, helping me take care of my special-needs son," Schulz said. "I've know her about 15 years -- she became part family to me, so I'm very protective of them."

Schulz started a GoFundMe page, "Expenses for Herron Family," to help raise money for funeral expenses.

"Kevin, Holley and Gavin did not have life insurance, so we wanted to take that step to relieve the families of the burden of trying to deal with that on top of the insurmountable issues that they're having with losing their loved ones quite suddenly and all at once," Schulz said. "So the GoFundMe is set up to help with the funeral expenses surrounding that."

Schulz, for the time being, is acting as a spokesperson for the families involved. During a Zoom meeting on Monday, Schulz read a statement prepared by the Herrons and Holley's parents: Dee Ann and Elbert Ward. Family members expressed their gratitude to the community and thanked everyone for their support.

"It's been a long few days, and it's not over," Schulz said. "I could never have imagined being in this situation. I am proud and honored that the families have asked me to represent them."

The four Herrons who perished were traveling to the East Coast to visit family on the East Coast. Because they had been unable to travel due to COVID-19, and decided fly.

Kevin was a sales representative for Snap-On Tools who served four years during three deployments with the U.S. Marine Corps. He was a licensed pilot and owned a Cirrus SR-22 single-propeller airplane. 

Crawford County Sheriff Ron Brown said the plane crashed Friday evening and was found Saturday morning.

Brown said air traffic controllers at the Fort Smith airport tower lost contact with the Cirrus SR-22 while trying to help Kevin Herron land at Drake Field near Fayetteville. Brown said the aircraft was destroyed.

"They thought rather than drive and expose themselves to lots of different people and lots of different situations, they had decided that Kevin would fly them to see extended family for the holiday weekend," Schulz said."  

Paul, who was known to everyone as PD, served as an assistant chief at the FAIC Volunteer Fire Department until 2017 and worked in the oil fields. 

Holley and Kevin graduated from Checotah High School.

Holley attended Connors State College and Northeastern State University. She expected to receive during her test scores Tuesday and find out whether she had qualified for her teaching license. 

Gavin was enrolled in at Marshall Elementary.

The Herrons were remembered as a bowling family. Lori Barnard of Fast Lanes Bowl in Checotah said it's a "tragic loss."

"All we can say at Fast Lanes is they will all be missed — greatly," Barnard said. "We are all grieving and very upset right now."

Services remain pending. The Federal Aviation Administration, National Transportation Safety Board and Crawford County Sheriff's Department are still investigating the cause of the crash.

"Any donations will be appreciated," Schulz said. "We are just trying to help a family not have to stress about something like that in a situation like this."

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