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Pilot in deadly hot air balloon crash in Texas had multiple DWI arrests

August 1, 2016  |  Posted by: Francesca Falzarano
Pilot in deadly hot air balloon crash in Texas had multiple DWI arrests

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The owner/pilot of the hot air balloon that crashed and killed all 16 people aboard in Texas had been previously arrested for driving while intoxicated back in 2000, according to Missouri Police.

In 2008, the Better Business Bureau had advised customers against using Alfred “Skip” Nichols’ business after complaints emerged about his previous balloon touring company in St. Louis, claiming that the man was on probation for drug-related charges.

According to the Daily Mail, the 49-year-old pilot was operating under the name “Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides” and was listed as owner and pilot before this weekend’s fatal event.

In an interview with the AP, Alan Lirette, who shared a house with Nicols, said: “That’s the only thing I want to talk about, is that he’s a great pilot.”

The scene of the fatal balloon crash can be seen from a distance above. The sheriff's office received a 911 call at 7.44am

Viewed from above, the  scene of the fatal balloon crash  

“There’s going to be all kinds of reports out in the press, and I want a positive image there too,” Lirette added.

A police officer in Missouri informed The Associated Press that Nichols was arrested back in 2000 for driving while intoxicated and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor DWI in 2002.

Nichols lived in Missouri before relocating to Texas. He was known as “Skip” in both states.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the Better Business Bureau (BBB) had warned consumers back in 2008 against doing business with Nichols, which was the third time in eight years that Nichols had received a poor rating for not responding to complaints.

The newspaper stated the BBB reported that Nichols was on probation in Missouri for distribution and delivery or manufacturing a controlled substance. When asked to respond, Nichols replied, “I prefer to make no comment on that.”

Skip Nichols (pictured left, with passengers identified as the balloon's pilot with the company Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides

Skip Nichols (pictured left, with passengers identified as the balloon’s pilot with the company Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides

Reports also indicate that there have been extensive complaints against the Heart of Texas company. The Better Business Bureau gave it D+ rating and the business’ Yelp rating is 1.5 stars, mostly over canceled rides.

The company has currently suspended its operations and released a statement which confirmed that Nichols was the pilot.

The business noted: “The horrific crash near Lockhart, Texas has taken from us our owner and Chief Pilot, Skip Nichols, as well as 15 passengers, all of whom saw what was planned to be a special day turn into an unspeakable tragedy.”

Investigators announced that the balloon knocked into high-tension power lines before it crashed into a pasture on early Saturday morning.

The material of the hot air balloon was discovered about three-quarters of a mile from where the basket was found.

Sunday and Matt Rowan, both 34, were among the 16 killed in Saturday's balloon accident in Texas. Courtesy Joshua Rowan

Sunday and Matt Rowan, both 34, were among the 16 killed in Saturday’s balloon accident in Texas. Courtesy Joshua Rowan

The balloon had plummeted to the ground across eight miles, according to NTSB board member Robert Sumwaltm, who also noted that the same type of balloon was also implicated in another accident.

One eyewitness, Margaret Wylie, who resides a quarter-mile away from the crash site, said she heard popping noises and then observed what appeared to be “like a fireball going up.”

Law enforcement officials have not openly named Nichols or the other victims of the accident. They reported that the ID of the bodies could be a lengthy process.

Sheriff Daniel Law said individuals could simply show up and purchase a ticket, making it even more challenging to identify the victims.

Nonetheless, many of the victims have been identified by loved ones.

Paige Brabson (left), who just gave birth to her first child, bought tickets to the hot air balloon ride as a Mother's Day gift for her mom Lorilee Brabson (right). A family member confirmed their deaths

Paige Brabson (left), who just gave birth to her first child, bought tickets to the hot air balloon ride as a Mother’s Day gift for her mom Lorilee Brabson (right). A family member confirmed their deaths

A family member has confirmed that Paige Brabson, who just gave birth to her first child, purchased tickets for the ride as a Mother’s Day gift for her and her mother. Britney Reeves Hedin posted a moving tribute on Facebook commemorating the victim as an “excellent example of loving kindness to all.”

Hedin further noted: “My heart is completely broken for their family. Her daughter has a very young little girl and life was just starting for them.”

Additionally, a professor with the US Army Institute of Surgical Research – Matt Rowan, was identified along with his wife by family members. The couple were still newlyweds who were just married this past February. The couple posted two pictures from the balloon on social media.

Tresa and Joe Owens, another couple, were among the crash victims just shortly their 17th wedding anniversary. The couple’s friend, Holly Huckabee, is also among the killed.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators discovered 14 personal electronic devices, which included phones, three cameras, and an iPad which will be shipped to a lab in Washington for further analysis.

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