Valdosta Daily Times

State News

February 23, 2013

Flying routine for Ga. doc, staff killed in crash

SAVANNAH — With four medical clinics across the Southeast, commuting by private plane was a routine day at work for Dr. Steven Roth and his surgical staff.

The Augusta-based vascular surgeon would fly at least one day a week to of the practice’s satellite clinics in Atlanta, Nashville, Tenn., and Raleigh, N.C., where he and a small team of nurses and technicians would perform surgeries and consult with patients.

Now, federal investigators are working to determine why Roth’s trip Wednesday night turned deadly. The private jet had returned to eastern Georgia after a day’s work at the Nashville clinic 400 miles away when the pilots aborted their landing, struck a 60-foot utility pole about a quarter-mile past the runway and crashed, breaking into fragments of flaming wreckage. Roth and four members of his staff were killed, and two pilots were hospitalized.

“It’s a trip that’s been made hundreds of times,” said Melissa Benak, the wife of Roth’s Atlanta-based co-worker Dr. Mark Benak. “So I think that’s why people are especially in shock.”

The crash devastated the partner physicians and staff that worked closely with the 48-year-old Roth to expand the medical practice, which they called the Vein Guys, since the surgeon opened his first clinic in Augusta in 2004.

Four members of Roth’s traveling medical team also died in the crash. They included nurse anesthetist Lisa Volpitto, 46; ultrasound technician Tiffany Porter, 28; and Kim Davidson, 46, who was Roth’s executive assistant.

The fifth crash victim had still not been positively identified, McDuffie County Coroner Foster Wiley said Friday. A spokeswoman for the Vein Guys, Tina Vidal-Smith, said the fifth person traveling with Roth was ultrasound technician Heidi McCorkle, 28. The medical firm said in a statement that the two pilots survived.

Vidal-Smith said three of the staff had been with Roth for at least five years. Only Porter, a native of Albany, was new to the practice. She had been working with Roth just three days before the crash.

“They were a family, and they’ve been together for a really long time,” Vidal-Smith said.

Roth and his team treated patients for varicose veins, spider veins and other vascular diseases affecting the legs. The doctor would see patients a few days each week in Augusta, then use the jet for day-trips to treat patients at the other clinics.

“It was a natural course of business for him,” Vidal-Smith said.

Investigators for the National Transportation Safety Board returned Friday to the crash site about a half-mile from the small, private airport in Thomson, about 30 miles west of Augusta. The NTSB quickly determined the plane overshot the runway and hit a concrete utility pole, tearing off the jet’s left wing and causing fuel to leak and burst into flames. NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt said that much of the wreckage was in small fragments strewn over 100 yards and that most of the plane had burned.

What remains unknown is why the jet’s pilot aborted the landing. The jet approached the runway under clear skies. Flight records confirmed the plane had made the same trip many times, Sumwalt said Friday, and air traffic controllers in Augusta received no distress calls.

Pilots would typically notify air traffic controllers of mechanical malfunctions or emergencies, Sumwalt said.

Sumwalt said experts in Washington would take a closer look at video from a motion-activated security camera at the airport that caught only a brief and grainy glimpse at the jet.

Investigators had also paid a brief visit to one of the hospitalized pilots, Sumwalt said, but detailed interviews about what happened before the crash would have to wait.

“Obviously, they’ve got the firsthand accounts of what happened, as best as they can remember them,” Sumwalt said. “But you can’t just go storming into a hospital and conduct an interview.”

One of the pilots, Richard Trammel, was upgraded to fair condition Friday at Georgia Regents Medical Center in Augusta. The name of the second pilot had not been released by authorities, and his condition remained unknown.

Joshua Williams, a fellow charter pilot, said he had known Trammel for 18 years.

“He’s a very experienced pilot, a very skilled pilot with many, many years of expertise,” Williams said, though he declined to comment further.

Text Only
State News
  • Ga. online tuition dropping

    Jenni Small has good reason for avoiding 8 a.m. world literature classes at Dalton State College in northern Georgia. The 23-year-old works night shifts as an operator for carpet manufacturer Shaw while finishing her bachelor’s degree in mathematics.
    Instead of heading straight to class from work, she uses eCore — an online system that focuses on “core” classes that every Georgia state college or university student must take — for 1 or 2 courses each semester.

    April 21, 2014

  • Vidalia Onion Battle_Rich copy.jpg Vidalia onion farmer back in court over ship date

    One of Georgia’s most prominent Vidalia onion farmers is going back to court in an effort to stop the state agriculture commissioner from fining growers who ship the famous sweet onions before a certain date.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • GEORGIA PORTS_Rich copy.jpg Ga. ports on track to smash cargo records

    Georgia’s seaports are on track to finish the 2014 fiscal year with record cargo volumes as third-quarter numbers show big growth capped by the ports’ busiest month ever in terms of total tonnage being shipped to and from the docks.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Gov. Deal signs prisoner re-entry bill into law

    Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed a bill into law on Sunday that is aimed at reducing recidivism among ex-offenders and helping them successfully re-enter society.

    April 14, 2014

  • Deal reports $3.9M in cash for re-election bid

    Gov. Nathan Deal on Monday reported $3.9 million in cash for his re-election bid, after raising about $84,000 in 11 days since the legislative session ended.

    April 8, 2014

  • photoscape_eagle.jpg Ga. eagle population continues growth

    During a late-March aerial survey by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, more than 25 bald eagle nests were counted in northeastern Georgia. All but three represented viable adults and chicks.

    April 7, 2014 1 Photo

  • Private company selling Georgia accident reports

    Selling car crash reports to a private company has saved time and money according to state officials, but some drivers cite concerns over retrieval costs and privacy.

    April 7, 2014

  • Forecasters issue flood watch in Ga.

    The National Weather Service has issued a flood watch covering much of the state.

    April 6, 2014

  • Georgia wants private companies to manage student housing

    Georgia is on course to become one of the nation’s largest experiments in privatized college dorms, but it’s unclear whether the changes will lower students’ bills at a time when university costs are soaring.

    April 6, 2014

  • Ga. misses food stamp backlog deadline

    State officials say Georgia missed the deadline to clear backlogged food stamp cases, putting millions of dollars of federal funding at risk.

    April 5, 2014

Top News

Given the amount of rain recently, what's your favorite “rain” song?

Singing in the Rain
Purple Rain
Have You Ever Seen the Rain?
November Rain
Rainy Night in Georgia
     View Results