Victim Assistance Program cleans up park where it helped after Ellet plane crash in 2015  

By Theresa Cottom
Beacon Journal staff writer

Gray clouds hung low over Davenport Park on Friday morning, threatening rain but never quite breaking. The park was quiet and empty of kids, while about a dozen adults roamed the grounds. Across the street at Summit Academy, classes were in full swing.

The calm scene was a stark contrast to the chaos that ensued there a year and a half prior.

“It was a complete circus down here,” said Samantha Clarke, a victim advocate with the Victim Assistance Program.

It’s been 1½ years since a commercial plane crashed in Ellet on Nov. 10, 2015, killing all nine of the people on board but miraculously sparing all surrounding residents and pets.

Displaced residents congregated in Davenport Park, where staff members from the Victim Assistance Program provided on-scene crisis counseling and assistance.

On Friday, 13 staff members returned to the park for the first time collectively since that day to clean up and shed light on that corner of Ellet’s dark recent history.

“It’s nice to come back here and do something positive,” said Mickey Valdez, the director of services for the Victim Assistance Program.

More than half of Victim Assistance Program’s staff members were at the park Friday cleaning up litter scattered around the area.

Valdez said the agency was looking for community service projects and reached out to Keep Akron Beautiful, a nonprofit city beautification project.

The organization sent back a slew of parks that needed attention, but Davenport stood out among the rest.

“We’re always looking for different ways we can give back,” Valdez said. “This was a way to kind of make such a terrible time a little bit better.”

As staff roamed the grounds, picking up pieces of assorted glass, wrappers and cans, some remembered standing in that field not so long ago helping pick up the pieces of newly disrupted lives.

The day of the crash

Clarke was just heading into work for her 4 p.m. shift when her manager called and told her a plane went down.

“I didn’t think she was serious,” Clarke said. “You hear the words ‘plane crash,’ that’s not really something that happens every day.”

She and other victim advocates arrived on the scene even before the Red Cross. The weather was typical for November, cold and pouring rain, while the scene was aglow.

“It was just a huge fireball between two apartment buildings,” Valdez recalled.

Emergency responders guided all displaced residents and any family members of victims to Davenport Park. Everyone who lived in the surrounding apartments — Clarke estimates about 25 total — walked away from the incident unscathed.

It’s a detail that stands out in Socorro Morgan’s mind the most.

“It was crazy that it happened, but everyone was safe,” said Morgan, one of the first victim advocates on site that day.

Still, people were drenched and confused standing in the rain.

Leanne Graham, the director of Victim Assistance Program, went across the street to Summit Academy to see if they’d let the victims in.

People at the school did one better, providing shelter and leftover food from a meeting while victim advocates scrambled to connect them with long-term resources.

“That’s how you make communities resilient,” Morgan said.

For the following two days, victim advocates were on scene day and night to provide assistance as needed.

The Victim Assistance Program is no longer involved with assisting any of the family members or victims.

They wanted to show their presence in the park, though, to remind the community that they haven’t disappeared.

“I know our advocates really worked hard that day to support families who were impacted,” said Erica Konecny, an administrative assistant with Victim Assistance Program. “I think that’s why we’re kind of able to bring it forward and still show support to the community to show we’re there whenever they need.”

Theresa Cottom can be reached at 330-996-3216 or tcottom@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @Theresa_Cottom .

(Published with permission of the Akron Beacon Journal)

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