- Associated Press - Thursday, March 5, 2015

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) - Virginia State Police on Thursday identified the three friends who died when the small plane they were in crashed into a botanical garden in southeast Virginia.

Police said the victims were pilot Michael Buxton, 61, of Portsmouth, Virginia, and passengers William M. Shaver, 60, of Holland, New York, and Ted D. Reinhardt, 62, of Tonawanda, New York. The men grew up together in the Buffalo, New York, area and were returning to Virginia after a trip to the Florida Keys when their single-engine, four-seat aircraft crashed while trying to land at Norfolk International Airport on a dark, foggy morning.

“My dad and his buddy met Mike in Virginia and they flew to the Keys where they went sailing for five or six days. They were on their way home,” Bill Shaver told The Buffalo News. “This was like my dad’s last hurrah. He worked hard his whole life but became disabled. He’d had multiple back surgeries and just had a final big operation and was starting to feel better and while he was feeling better he wanted to take this trip with his friends.”

The plane never reached the runway and crashed in Norfolk Botanical Garden, which is adjacent to the airport. The plane came to a rest largely intact, but upside down in a wooded section of the garden called the Enchanted Forest. The National Transportation Safety Board has said it will take at least nine months to determine a probable cause of the crash.

In upstate New York, Reinhardt was remembered for his musical talents. He was a well-known local drummer who played in various rock and fusion bands and was inducted into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame in 1985. His band Gamalon, which he played in with his brother Tom, was inducted in 2002.

Anthony Casuccio, president of the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame, said that even though Reinhardt had plenty of success, he remained humble. He said Reinhardt wrote a letter to an up-and-coming young drummer in New York that he would meet with him to share advice when he got back from his trip to Florida.

“He’s such a nice guy, people referred to him as a teddy bear,” Casuccio said. “He just didn’t have an ego. He was really, really open to what other drummers were doing. It wasn’t ego driven, it was music driven, and I think that says a lot about him.”

Casuccio said Reinhardt was known as a “rhythm machine” who pushed the limits on jazz fusion.

“He was a monster drummer and a nice guy. It just made him that much more valuable to the western New York music scene. People just wanted to work with him,” he said.

Echoing his musical praises, the Buffalo News said that Reinhardt “was widely regarded as one of the most virtuosic musicians in the history of Buffalo music” who “favored complex compositions that made him a legend among Buffalo musicians.”

Dick Bauerle went to high school with Reinhardt and played music with him for decades. He said that he became emotionally numb after word spread through the music community that Reinhardt was one of the victims.

“When somebody dies so suddenly, violently and tragically like this, it’s very difficult for the body and the brain to accept it, especially when we were so very close for all those years. We probably appeared on over 200 recordings together,” Bauerle said.

He said while Reinhardt was a talented musician, he’ll miss his laugh the most.

“I can’t stress enough what a great, humble, funny, down-to-Earth, fun-to-be-with human being he was,” he said. “Everybody loved him. He was the friendliest guy in the world.”

Bauerle said that while Reinhardt had talents that he could have taken out of Buffalo, he said family was too important.

While the men grew up together in the Buffalo area, Buxton moved to Virginia in the late 1970s to become a school psychologist in Virginia Beach. Buxton received his undergraduate degree from Canisius College in Buffalo and his master’s degree from Syracuse University. Canisius College issued a statement saying the community mourns the loss of Buxton and that its thoughts and prayers are with his family and the other victims and their loved ones.

Eventually, Buxton opened up his own private practice as a clinical psychologist in Virginia Beach and was an advocate for educational choice and special-education issues. He also earned a doctorate from the College of William and Mary and liked to fly small airplanes, go fishing, and SCUBA dive in his free time.

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Brock Vergakis can be reached at www.twitter.com/BrockVergakis

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