Steve Davis killed in crash

Updated: March 18, 2013, 4:05 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Steve Davis, Oklahoma's starting quarterback when it won back-to-back national championships in the 1970s, was one of two people killed when a small aircraft smashed into three homes in northern Indiana, officials said Monday.

St. Joseph County Coroner Randy Magdalinski identified the victims of Sunday's crash in South Bend as 60-year-old Steven Davis and 58-year-old Wesley Caves, both of Tulsa, Okla. Davis' parents, Jim and Patsy Davis of Sallisaw, Okla., confirmed his death Monday.

[+] EnlargeSteve Davis
AP PhotoSteve Davis, who quarterbacked Oklahoma to back-to-back national championships in the 1970s, was killed in a plane crash in Indiana.

"We lost a great Sooner," Tinker Owens, a receiver who played with Davis, said in a text to The Oklahoman. "Sad news."

Caves owned the Beechcraft Premier I twin-jet that clipped one house before slamming into two more Sunday afternoon. Caves had a pilot's license, but it was not immediately clear if he was flying the plane when it crashed.

Davis went 32-1-1 as the Sooners' starter from 1973 to 1975, starting every game of Barry Switzer's first three seasons as head coach. Oklahoma tied Southern Cal in the second game of the 1973 season, then ran off 28 straight victories with Davis under center. The Sooners went 11-0 in 1974, then won the national title again the following year after going 11-1.

Davis' school records for consecutive starts (34) and career victories (32) were surpassed only last season by Landry Jones, who started every game the past three seasons plus most of 2009.

In the process, Davis reached out to Jones, who had been criticized after an early season loss to Kansas State by writing him a letter; Davis had been booed during the only loss of his career, a 23-3 setback to Kansas in 1975. Jones would go on to break Davis' career record for wins by beating Texas, also joining Davis, Jimmy Harris and Jamelle Holieway as the only Sooners' quarterbacks to go 3-0 in Red River Rivalry starts.

"He just really wanted to encourage me," Jones recalled. "Just keep going, keep leading those guys and keep fighting, regardless of what happens in the next game or the last game. Your focus is on this game and always to lead those guys."

The plane leaked enough fuel to force the evacuation of hundreds of people from surrounding homes, but most residents were allowed to return Monday morning.

Frank Sojka, 84, who lives in the first home that was struck, went back to his home Monday morning so he could retrieve some items. A total of eight homes remain under mandatory evacuation.

"I'm surprised people survived that," he said as he sat in his car with his son, waiting for police to move the barricade on his street.

Sojka said he was in the front bedroom of the home he's lived in for 55 years when he heard a loud, dull sound.

"I got up and went into the living room and I could see the sky through the ceiling and all kinds of debris in the far end of the living room," he said.

The front part of the fuselage sat wedged inside the third house just southwest of the South Bend Regional Airport, where the pilot had tried to land the plane Sunday afternoon.

Two others on board the plane survived, South Bend Assistant Fire Chief John Corthier said. South Bend Memorial Hospital spokeswoman Maggie Scroope said Monday that Jim Rogers was in serious condition and Christopher Evans was in fair condition.

A woman who neighbors said lived in the middle house that was struck, Diana McKeown, was in fair condition, Scroope said.

The plane began its journey in Tulsa, Okla. It is registered to 7700 Enterprises in Helena, Mont., which does business in Tulsa as DigiCut Systems and is owned by Caves. Spoo said he did not know the connection between Davis and Caves.

"He absolutely loved getting in the air," Spoo said of Davis.

Davis had joined the about 3,600-member congregation a couple of decades ago, but his travels and work took him elsewhere, Spoo said. He noted that in the last few years, Davis had become a more active member of the church.

"As followers of Jesus, we have two commands: One is to love God; the other is to love people, and Steve fulfilled those commands with excellence," he said.

Mike Daigle, executive director of the St. Joseph County Airport Authority, said the plane attempted a landing at the South Bend airport about 4:15 p.m., then went back up and maneuvered south to try another landing, but eight minutes later, the airport learned the plane was no longer airborne.

He provided no information to indicate if the pilot said the plane was experiencing mechanical trouble.

Daigle said Monday he has no firsthand knowledge about what caused the crash.

National Transportation Safety Board investigator Todd Fox said late Sunday the agency will be looking for the cause of the crash and "to identify and remedy any issues that could have prevented this accident."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.