SOUTH BEND, Ind. – People who knew former Oklahoma quarterback Steve Davis say his passion for flying began before he arrived at the school and led the Sooners to back-to-back national championships in the 1970s.
“He absolutely loved getting in the air,” said Deron Spoo, pastor at First Baptist Church in Tulsa, Okla., where Davis went to church.
Davis, 60, and his friend Wesley Caves, 58, died Sunday when Caves’ small aircraft smashed into three homes in northern Indiana, St. Joseph County Coroner Randy Magdalinski said Monday. Davis’ parents, Jim and Patsy Davis of Sallisaw, Okla., confirmed his death. Three others were injured, including two passengers.
Caves, of Tulsa, owned the Beechcraft Premier I twin-jet. He had a pilot’s license, but it was not immediately clear if he was at the controls when it crashed.
Patsy Davis said she believed it was possible her son would have been in the co-pilot’s seat.
“He hadn’t flown for a while, but as far as we know, he was still a licensed pilot. He didn’t own a plane,” she said Monday.
Messages left by the Associated Press for Caves’ wife and at least two others who are believed to be his family members in Tulsa were not returned Monday.
The plane leaked enough fuel to force the evacuation of hundreds of people from surrounding homes, but most residents were allowed to return Monday morning.
Frank Sojka, 84, who lives in the first home that was struck, went back to the neighborhood Monday morning to tell police what items he wanted retrieved. A total of eight homes remain under mandatory evacuation.
“I’m surprised people survived that,” he said as he sat in his car with his son, waiting for police to move the barricade on his street.
Sojka said he was in the front bedroom of the home he’s lived in for 55 years when he heard a loud, dull sound.
“I got up and went into the living room and I could see the sky through the ceiling and all kinds of debris in the far end of the living room,” he said.
The front part of the fuselage sat wedged inside the third house just southwest of the South Bend Regional Airport, where the pilot had tried to land. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash.
Two others on board the plane survived, South Bend Assistant Fire Chief John Corthier said. South Bend Memorial Hospital spokeswoman Maggie Scroope said Monday that Jim Rodgers was in serious condition and Christopher Evans was in fair condition. Davis’ parents said they didn’t know the relationship between their son and Rodgers and Evans.
A woman who neighbors said lived in the middle house that was struck, Diana McKeown, was in fair condition, Scroope said. Edgar Diaz, a spokesman for Memorial Hospital, said the survivors have declined requests for media interviews.
Caves’ plane took off from Tulsa and is registered to 7700 Enterprises in Helena, Mont., which does business in Tulsa as DigiCut Systems and is owned by Caves.
Mike Daigle, executive director of the St. Joseph County Airport Authority, said the plane attempted a landing at the South Bend airport about 4:15 p.m., then went back up and maneuvered south to try another landing, but eight minutes later, the airport learned the plane was no longer airborne. He provided no information to indicate if the pilot said the plane was experiencing mechanical trouble.
Patsy Davis said her son was a businessman, and Jim Davis described his son as an OU booster with enough clout that “he had a lot of input in the athletic department.”
In his football career, Steve Davis went 32-1-1 as the Sooners’ starter from 1973 to 1975, starting every game of Barry Switzer’s first three seasons as head coach. Oklahoma tied Southern California in the second game of the 1973 season, and then ran off 28 straight victories with Davis under center. The Sooners went 11-0 in 1974. They won the national title again the following year after going 11-1.
Davis had joined the Tulsa church, which has about 3,600 members, a couple of decades ago, but his travels and work took him elsewhere, Spoo said. He noted that in the last few years, Davis had become a more active member of the church.
“As followers of Jesus, we have two commands: One is to love God; the other is to love people, and Steve fulfilled those commands with excellence,” he said.
Patsy Davis said her son was a loving and caring family man.
“He always hugged me and said, ‘I love you, Mom,”’ she said. “He always called, but he was pretty busy so he didn’t come to Sallisaw very often.”