2 Executives of In-N-Out Chain Died in Crash
The two top executives of In-N-Out Burgers were aboard a chartered jet Wednesday evening when it crashed near a crowded Santa Ana auto mall, apparently breaking a longstanding rule they had about not flying together. All five people on board died.
The fiery crash, at the height of the evening rush hour, took the lives of Richard A. Snyder, 41, president of the family-owned hamburger chain and a well-known Republican activist; Philip R. West, 46, In-N-Out’s executive vice president and Snyder’s childhood friend; Jack Sims, whose age was not available, a consultant who was also a friend of Snyder’s; pilot Stephen L. Barkin, 46, of Canyon Country, and co-pilot John O. McDaniel, 49, of Long Beach.
At In-N-Out’s corporate headquarters in Baldwin Park, officials were tight-lipped Thursday about the long-term impact of the tragedy on the privately held company, which is one of the oldest and largest family-owned restaurant chains in the United States, with about 60 outlets.
“The plane was on a business trip and en route to John Wayne (Airport),” company Vice President Carl Van Fleet said. “An investigation is under way. The company continues to be operated by staff, and no business disruptions are anticipated.”
The National Transportation Safety Board was studying the possibility that the crash may have occurred because the private plane was following a larger jet too closely and may have been affected by the turbulence in its wake, officials said Thursday.
Supervisory air safety investigator Don Llorente said the smaller plane was flying about two miles behind a Boeing 757 as it made its approach to the airport. At one point, the private plane apparently flew about 200 feet below the larger jet’s glide path, which is not customary, Llorente said.
The executives’ one-day trip, which began in Long Beach Wednesday morning and was scheduled to end at Orange County’s John Wayne Airport that evening, included a stop in Fresno for the opening of a new restaurant and scouting of other potential locations, according to family friends and company sources. The plane made stops in Orange County, Fresno, Bakersfield and La Verne before heading back to Orange County.
Snyder’s mother, Esther, who founded In-N-Out with her late husband, Harry, in 1948, also had been aboard the twin-engine jet but disembarked at Brackett Field in La Verne about 20 miles east of Los Angeles, according to a family friend, former Irvine Mayor Sally Anne Sheridan.
Investigators for the National Transportation Safety Board were examining the plane’s wreckage Thursday, scattered some 30 yards from the point of impact off Edinger Avenue near the California 55 Freeway.
The investigators combed through the rubble as dozens of people watched, some through binoculars. Officials cut through the plane’s fuselage with a rotating saw, trying to haul away pieces and reach the cockpit, which was lodged underground. Investigators had removed the plane’s black box earlier and shipped it to Washington for examination.
In-N-Out had a corporate policy forbidding its two top executives from flying together, according to Sheridan, who was friendly with West and Snyder.
“Rich and Phil never flew together when they went to Arizona, Vegas or other places” where the company has outlets, she said.
West apparently adhered to the policy and took a commercial flight for at least one leg of the trip Wednesday, but then opted to take the chartered jet home, Sheridan said, recounting a conversation she had with West’s wife, Lori, on Thursday.
Lori “has a feeling he changed flights in order to get back home to her and her son earlier,” Sheridan said. “She told me he always flew separately. She wants to know why he boarded that plane.”
Esther Snyder, who serves as In-N-Out’s secretary-treasurer and also still works in its accounting department, got off in La Verne because she was not feeling well, Sheridan said. Another In-N-Out executive, Bob Williams, also left the plane in La Verne, according to sources.
After the stop in La Verne, the Westwind 1124A took off again, heading for the day’s final stop at John Wayne Airport. Moments before the crash, the pilot was cleared for landing by the airport tower, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman said.
But just after 5:30 p.m., the plane suddenly spiraled straight down, plunging nose first into the ground in a field just past the Santa Ana Auto Mall, which was crowded with customers. No one on the ground was hurt.
Friends, family members and business competitors mourned the victims Thursday, in particular extolling Snyder, the best-known of the five, as a skilled, careful businessman, a considerate boss and a religious, charitable man. Snyder, who is survived by his wife, Christina, and his mother, was active in conservative political causes, including the recent school voucher initiative.
“He’s a real loss; he was a wonderful man,” said Roberta Ahmanson who, like Snyder, helped finance the voucher initiative defeated in last month’s election. “He did an awful lot of good things. A year ago he was handing out truckloads of blankets to homeless people.”
“He had a great love for this country,” said Bruce Herschensohn, a Republican U.S. Senate candidate in 1992 and a close friend of Snyder’s. “I really mean he had passion. This guy would get tears in his eyes when he talked about the United States.”
Herschensohn, a speech writer in the Nixon White House, said Snyder played a big role in his decision to enter the 1986 race against then-U.S. Sen. Alan Cranston. Since then, Snyder had been a prominent contributor and activist for Republican conservatives and their causes.
He has hosted events for former President Ronald Reagan and ex-Vice President Dan Quayle. Last week he entertained a group of conservative Sacramento lawmakers in his sky box at a Los Angeles Rams football game.
Carl N. Karcher, founder and chairman emeritus of the Carl’s Jr. hamburger chain, said he had known the Snyder family for about 30 years.
“My heart just fell, it sank,” Karcher said. “He’s a competitor but I’ve always admired him. I’m in a state of shock.”
Snyder’s personality was evident in the way he crafted In-N-Out’s planned move to Irvine from Baldwin Park. Instead of disrupting corporate employees’ lives with lightning-fast decisions, “Rich took time to make sure that everyone at the company could get used to the idea,” Sheridan said. “He started the planning months in advance.
West, 46, of Turtle Rock, Calif., is survived by his wife, Lori. He was described as Snyder’s best friend.
“Phil West was Rich’s closest friend. They were childhood friends,” said an Orange County attorney who knows both men. “For Esther (Snyder), it’s got to be like losing two sons. They were both just super guys.”
The pilots also drew praise Thursday, both for their flying ability and their personalities.
Besides his wife, Jane, Barkin is survived by his parents, Irvin and Bea Barkin of Florida; his sister, Shellie Barkin of Sacramento, and two stepsons.
Times staff writers Mark Platte, Jodi Wilgoren, Jeff Perlman, Dave Reyes, Willson Cummer, Dave Lesher and Mike Flagg contributed to this report.