California Forest Service Veteran Among Three Dead in Texas Crash

SONORA, Calif. (AP) -- A veteran Stanislaus National Forest employee was among three people killed in a Texas helicopter crash while conducting a prescribed burning operation in the Sabine National Forest, officials said Friday.

John M. Greeno, 51, of Soulsbyville, had worked at the forest since 1984, most recently as helitack base manager on the Mi-Wok Ranger District, managing as many as 14 firefighters during the fire season.

''This was a guy who's been on the forest 20 years, so he's got a lot of family and friends who are just in shock,'' said Jerry Snyder, a spokesman for the Stanislaus National Forest.

The National Transportation Safety Board is leading the crash investigation, though the Forest Service is conducting its own probe. The Forest Service shut down all aerial operations in Texas until further notice.

Also killed were Charles Edgar, 54, fire management officer for the Sabine National Forest, and the pilot of the Bell Model 206-B3 helicopter, Jose Victor Gonzalez, who was working under a Forest Service contract with Brainerd Company in Brainerd, Minn.

The company's owner, Lee Andrew, said Gonzales had worked for him about three weeks and was hired out of Texas. He said this is the first fatal crash for the company.

The helicopter had flown all morning, then refueled and returned to fly in the afternoon over the rural, pine-studded region, said Shelby County Sheriff Newton Johnson.

''The helicopter came over the radio, they were saying, 'Mayday, Mayday, we're going down,' and they crashed in the national forest,'' Johnson said.

Justice of the Peace O.B. Furlow said the area surrounding the crash site has such dense vegetation that officials had to use a bulldozer to get to the scene.

''It's nothing but pine wood back there,'' Furlow said.

Visitation for John Greeno will take place Thursday, March 17 at the Terzich Wilson Funeral Home, 225 Rose Street, Sonora, CA from 5 to 7 p.m.

The funeral will take place Friday, March 18 at the Sierra Bible Church on Tuolumne Road, Tuolumne County at 2 p.m.

A processional of forest service vehicles will escort Greeno's body to the funeral home when it is flown into Columbia, CA Airport Monday, March 14 at 8:30 p.m. and from the funeral home to Sierra Bible Church March 18.

A reception at the Sheriff's Posse Grounds on Rawhide Road near Jamestown, CA will follow the funeral services.

Memorial donations can be made to the Motherlode Bank, c/o Benefit for John Greeno, 172 West Stockton Road, Sonora, CA 95370.

Condolences can be sent to P.O. Box 816, Soulsbyville, CA 95372.

Greeno is survived by his wife, Lori, his son Marcus, 15, and his daughter, Montana, 12.