UPDATED: Pilot killed in helicopter crash ID'd
MANSFIELD — A veteran helicopter pilot from Piatt County was killed Tuesday morning when his crop-duster clipped a power line and went down in a bean field not far from his home.
The death of Paul Dean Reynolds, 47, of Mansfield, came less than three weeks after he was criminally charged in his home county with sexually molesting two girls.
The crash is being investigated by the Federal Aviation Administration, the Piatt County Sheriff’s Office and the Piatt County Coroner.
“The pilot was found under the refuse deceased. He did clip some power lines,” said Todd Jones, chief of the Northern Piatt County Fire Protection District. “There was some chemical leakage from the aircraft but it was contained to one small area.”
About 10:45 a.m., emergency responders were sent to a field about 2 1/2 miles north of Mansfield where they found a helicopter upside down in a field of mature soybeans northwest of the intersection of Piatt County roads 3200 and 1300 E in the northeast corner of Piatt County.
Mr. Reynolds ran his own crop-dusting business, Reynolds Aerial Service, since 2009, and was assisted by two of his daughters. He had been trained to fly helicopters in the Army and flew in Operation Desert Storm.
Piatt County Sheriff's Sgt. J.D. Russell said a resident in that area saw the helicopter go down and called for help.
The location where he crashed was not a field Mr. Reynolds had been hired to spray, Russell said. Instead, he was on his way to another job when he clipped the high-power line.
The crash site is about 5 miles north of the home that he shared with his wife and children until recently. Some of his family members were at the scene within a short time of the crash.
The crash scene was also not far from where Mr. Reynolds was seriously injured 15 months ago in a different kind of vehicle collision.
On May 8, 2013, Mr. Reynolds was riding his motorcycle south in the 2700 block of Piatt County Road 1500 E — about 2 miles from his home — when he was hit by a Mahomet teen, causing him to put his cycle down.
Wesley Luster, now 20 and living in Champaign, was pulling a trailer loaded with lawn equipment when he ran over Mr. Reynolds, dragging him for several yards before pulling into a gravel drive. The seriously injured Mr. Reynolds was dislodged and Luster ran over him a second time before fleeing the scene. Luster ultimately pleaded guilty in Piatt County Circuit Court to leaving the scene of a personal injury accident and was sentenced to 180 days in jail and four years of probation, which his is still serving.
In a January story in The News-Gazette, Mr. Reynolds shared details of his months-long recovery from being run over — both the grueling physical injuries and the financial setback he suffered as a result of being unable to fly his helicopter for months.
FAA records show that in January, Mr. Reynolds regained his medical certificate, enabling him to fly again.
He was rated to fly both single-engine aircraft and helicopters. In addition to his private pilot’s license, he also had a commercial pilot rating and was rated to fly his helicopter under instrument conditions — that is, when the forward visibility is less than three miles and the cloud ceiling is less than 1,000 feet.
Mr. Reynolds was dealt another serious setback in late June when he was arrested for allegedly molesting young girls.
He was formally charged in Piatt County Circuit Court on July 25 with aggravated criminal sexual abuse for contact that allegedly happened with one 15-year-old girl between September 2005 and September 2006. He was also charged with the less serious felony offense of sexual exploitation of a child for conduct that allegedly occurred in the spring of 2011 with a different 15-year-old girl. Out on bond, he was tentatively scheduled to be tried by a jury in October. A condition of his bond was that he have no contact with his marital residence on County Road 1300 E in Piatt County.
Mr. Reynolds was represented by Urbana attorney Tom Bruno.
“Paul was a veteran of the U.S. military, a very successful entrepreneur, and a charismatic fellow whose family loved him dearly,” said Bruno.
Bruno was last in court with Mr. Reynolds last week when they were going to try to modify the bond so that he could return to the family home. Bruno said they decided to withdraw the request and the case was continued until Sept. 22.
— Piatt County Journal-Republican editor Steve Hoffman contributed to this report