Cocaine, Alcohol Found in Body of Pilot

Times Staff Writer

The pilot of a plane that crashed into an apartment building in the Fairfax district this summer, killing five people, had cocaine and alcohol in his system, authorities said Tuesday.

Jeffrey T. Siegel, 50, a West Los Angeles contractor, died from his injuries, said Lt. Fred Corral, of the Los Angeles County coroner's office. The death certificate also will cite the detection of "cocaine and alcohol intake," he said.

"Usually when they find something like that, it shows he was likely flying impaired," Corral said. He could not specify how much cocaine and alcohol the toxicology tests had found.

Siegel's wife, Judy Gantz Siegel, said coroner's officials had told her that her husband's blood alcohol level was less than 0.06% -- below the legal limit of 0.08%.

"I know flat out that Jeff was not a drinker in any way," she said. "I also know the coroner said to me the alcohol measure was below the legal limit and most likely from the body decomposing."

Judy Siegel said she had no knowledge of her husband's using cocaine.

"I don't know how he did it or when he did it," she said. "It's just so shocking and horrifying to me for this to come out. This is not the person I knew."

On June 6, the single-engine plane that Jeffrey Siegel was piloting spiraled nose-down into an apartment complex on Spaulding Avenue, starting a fire that destroyed nearly a third of the building.

Tibor Reis, a 76-year-old watch repairer and resident of the apartment building, was killed, as were all three of Siegel's passengers: his niece, Jessica Kaplan, a 24-year-old screenwriter, and Tony Vinatieri, 42, and Bonnie Vinatieri, 41, a Marina del Rey couple flying from Santa Monica to Sun Valley, Idaho, to see houses that Siegel had built there.

"I don't think Tony and Bonnie would have gotten on the plane if they had known this guy had been taking drugs or alcohol, that's for sure," said Tony Vinatieri's uncle, Paul Vinatieri of Rapid City, S.D. "Tony would have never done anything like that. He was a very cautious person who enjoyed life and would have never taken any chances."

Judy Siegel described her husband after the crash as a "very skilled pilot" who had flown since he was a teenager.

"He felt at peace when he flew," she said. He had acquired the plane recently and was teaching his two sons about flying.

Jeffrey Siegel grew up in Beverly Hills and attended UCLA, she said. He owned JTS Construction in Santa Monica and had erected artists' lofts in Venice and a commercial structure for Muscle Magazine, among other buildings.

Paul Vinatieri said his nephew met had Siegel in March in Africa, where the two men struck up a conversation at a restaurant.

He said about two and half months later, the men crossed paths again -- this time at a bank near his nephew's home in Marina del Rey.

Tony Vinatieri had purchased a parcel by the beach near Marina del Rey that he wanted to build on, Paul Vinatieri said. Siegel wanted to show him some of Siegel's construction projects.

"It was just by chance they met," Paul Vinatieri said.

For The Record Los Angeles Times Thursday November 20, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 64 words Type of Material: Correction Pilot's autopsy -- An article in Wednesday's California section about the coroner's report on the pilot whose plane crashed into a Fairfax district apartment house last summer incorrectly stated the blood alcohol limit for pilots. According to Donn Walker, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman, a pilot is prohibited from flying if his blood-alcohol level is 0.04% or higher, not 0.08%, as the story stated.
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