BEDFORD, Mass. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Former New Jersey Nets owner Lewis Katz was killed along with six other people in a fiery plane crash in Massachusetts, just days after reaching a deal that many hoped would end months of infighting at the newspaper and help restore it to its former glory.
Katz’s son, Drew, and a business partner confirmed Katz’s death in the crash of a Gulfstream corporate jet that went down on takeoff Saturday night from Hanscom Field outside Boston on its way to New Jersey. There were no survivors. Katz was most recently a co-owner of the Philadelphia Inqurier newspaper.
Katz, 72, was returning from a gathering at the home of Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. Also killed was a next-door neighbor of Katz’s, Anne Leeds, a 74-year-old retired preschool teacher he had invited to accompany him.
The identities of the other victims weren’t immediately released. Nancy Phillips, Katz’s longtime partner and city editor at the Inquirer, was not aboard.
The plane was carrying three crew members and four passengers, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Officials gave no information on the cause of the crash, which sent up a fireball and shook nearby homes.
“There was a significant post-crash fire,” NTSB, Lead Investigator, Luke Schiada said.
The plane never managed to take-off.
“The aircraft actually entered, went down an embankment and into a gulley with water and that’s where it came to rest,” Schiada said.
Katz made his fortune investing in parking lots and the Yankees Entertainment and Sports (YES) Network in New York. Katz, who grew up in Camden, N.J., was the principal owner of the Nets from 1998-2004. The team reached the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003.
He also once owned the NHL’s New Jersey Devils.
“He was a visionary businessman who touched the lives of so many with his tireless pursuit of innovation and enterprise, as well as his deep commitment to his family, friends and community,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement Sunday. “Among his many accomplishments were having led his Nets teams in 2002 and 2003 to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. I send my deepest condolences to the Katz family during this very difficult time.”
Under Katz’s ownership, the Nets partnered with the Yankees to form the combined holding company YankeeNets, which created the YES Network.
“The New York Yankees are deeply saddened by the tragic passing of Lewis Katz last night” Hal Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ managing general partner, said in a statement Sunday. “We would like to express our deepest, heartfelt sympathies to his family.
“Lewis was a minority owner of the Yankees and a valued, long-time friend and colleague to so many of us within the organization. We will cherish his sense of humor, intellect, and deep sense of philanthropy. Lewis had a huge heart and was always there when someone needed help. He will forever be remembered.”
Bruce Ratner, Majority Owner of Barclays Center and Minority Owner of the Brooklyn Nets called Katz trusted friend.
“I am deeply saddened about the tragic death of Lewis Katz. Lewis was a long-time and trusted friend of mine and also a valued partner with the Nets. He was a brilliant and innovative businessman, but more importantly a tireless and inspiring humanitarian. He directly impacted the lives of so many people and will be deeply missed. I send my heartfelt condolences to the Katz family,” he said.
Bronx Borough President, Ruben Diaz reflected on Katz’s life of philanthropy.
“He was a major supporter of his alma mater, Temple University, where his support helps to give young people a chance for a great education. He was active in youth charities in his hometown of Camden, and served as a mentor to many youth throughout the region. His charitable activities were worthy of great admiration, but Lewis Katz did not do these things for recognition; he did them because he cared,” Diaz said.
As CBS 2’s Jessica Schneider reported, Katz was also a good friend of Bill Cosby.
“I hugged him, and Lewis always said the same thing to me. ‘I love you man,'” Cosby said.
On Tuesday, Katz and Harold H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest struck a deal to gain full control of the Inquirer as well as the Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com by buying out their co-owners for $88 million — an agreement that ended a very public feud over the Inquirer’s business and journalism direction.
Lenfest said Sunday that the deal will be delayed but will still go through.
When bidding on the company, Katz and Lenfest vowed to fund in-depth journalism and retain the Inquirer’s Pulitzer-winning editor, Bill Marimow.
“It’s going to be a lot of hard work. We’re not kidding ourselves. It’s going to be an enormous undertaking,” Katz said then, noting that advertising and circulation revenues had fallen for years. “Hopefully, (the Inquirer) will get fatter.”
The fight over the future of the city’s two major newspapers was sparked last year by a decision to fire Marimow. Katz and Lenfest wanted a judge to block the firing. Katz sued a fellow owner, powerful Democratic powerbroker George Norcross. The dispute was settled when Katz and Lenfest, a cable magnate-turned-philanthropist, bought out their partners.
The Inquirer has changed hands five times in eight years, and like many other newspapers, it has seen a downturn in business that has forced it to cut staff, close bureaus and scale back its ambitions.
Three previous owners, including Norcross, said in a statement that they were deeply saddened by Katz’s death.
“Lew’s long-standing commitment to the community and record of strong philanthropy across the region, particularly Camden where he was born and raised, will ensure that his legacy will live on,” they said.
The event at Goodwin’s home in Concord, Mass., was held to support an education initiative by Goodwin’s son.
Afterward, Katz, Goodwin’s friend of nearly 20 years, joined the author and others at dinner, where they talked about their shared interests, including journalism, Goodwin said.
“The last thing he said to me upon leaving for the plane was that most of all what we shared was our love and pride for our children,” Goodwin said in a statement.
Leeds’ husband, James P. Leeds Sr., town commissioner of Longport, N.J., said he received a text message from his wife four minutes before the crash saying they were about to take off.
Hanscom Field is about 20 miles northwest of Boston. The regional airport serves mostly corporate aviation, private pilots and commuter air services.
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