Michigan Firefighter Dies in Plane Crash

ANN ARBOR, Mich.-- Rick Lapensee was pursuing two of his loves aboard the University of Michigan Transplant Team plane: Flying and the medical profession.

Lapensee, a 48-year-old Ypsilanti firefighter and emergency-medical technician, brought hundreds of pictures to work of model airplanes he made with his sons. Those models hung in his barn in the Belleville area.

"He made model fire trucks and model airplanes," said Ypsilanti Lt. Mike Kouba, who was with Lapensee's family Monday night awaiting news on the search. "He got to do medical stuff, and he got to fly on airplanes. He loved to do both of them."

Kouba said Lapensee loves watching shows about airplanes on the History Channel and is an "airplane nut."

"We are still holding out hope, they haven't confirmed anything. We are still praying that things can happen," Kouba said Monday night.

Kouba said the family didn't want to comment until they had received word on the results of the ongoing search.

Lt. Mike Wells of the Ypsilanti Fire Department said early Monday evening that the department first heard from Lapensee's mother and wife that he was supposed to be on that flight. Lapensee had two boys, age 18 and 14.

"We are all in shock," Wells said, declining to further comment.

Kouba said Lapensee was off duty when he went on the flight Monday. Kouba said Lapensee had a part-time job the past three years with the U-M's organ procurement team, which he said was affiliated with the Survival Flight team.

Kouba said Lapensee called his wife on Monday to let him know he was off to Wisconsin.

Lapensee has 14 years with the Ypsilanti Fire Department. Prior to that, he worked for the Van Buren Township fire department.

"We fought lots of fires together," Kouba said. "He was someone everybody trusted. Everybody thought Rick was going to be the next Fire Marshall."

Tragedy struck the Ypsilanti Fire Department in August 2005, when firefighter Brad Patton, 35, his wife, and their 8-year-old son were killed while driving a vintage car that was struck broadside by another vehicle. The couples' two other children were seriously injured but survived.

"This is all real hard," Kouba said. "Our department is really small. This hits us really hard. It's getting real hard on us."

Republished with permission of the Kalamazoo Gazette.