FREMONT - Tom Schemmer was eating lunch at Big Boy Family Restaurant when he learned that six people were killed in a plane crash just two blocks from his home on Roselawn Drive.
Shocked that one of those killed was his former customer at Fremont Auto Parts - pilot Gene Damschroder, Sr., 86 - he couldn't help but stop by the Barker Road crash site after his meal.
Mr. Schemmer and about 40 other onlookers surveyed the wrecked plane from behind yellow caution tape and remembered Mr. Damschroder.
"He's a good ol' boy, everybody seems to like him," Mr. Schemmer said, adding he often supported him as a political candidate with his vote.
As dozens gathered hours after the plane crash that killed Mr. Damschroder and five others - Bill Ansted, 62, of Lindsey; Allison Ansted, 23, of Lindsey; Danielle Gerwin, 31, of Gibsonburg; Emily Gerwin, 4, of Gibsonburg, and Matt Clearman, 25, of Maumee - the shock was evident on the faces of the residents, police officers, and firefighters who arrived on the scene.
Almost all knew Mr. Damschroder.
John McConnell, 72, of Port Clinton, just happened to stop by the crash site when he saw the lines of cars of passers-by and state troopers.
He was surprised that he recognized the name of the pilot as a public servant and someone he happened to buy a chain saw from 30 years ago.
"Most of them looked pretty shaken by it all," said Glenn Cannon, who lives near the Fremont Airport. "The people I talked to, that work at the Fremont Post [of the Ohio Highway Patrol], all had stories about Gene. They couldn't believe it."
Mr. Cannon said teenagers at the scene also knew Mr. Damschroder.
"People were shocked that it happened. They were all handling it different ways. But they all seemed to have a memory of Gene. There were a lot of sad faces," Mr. Cannon said.
Fremont Mayor Terry Overmyer said news of the tragedy was slowly filtering through the community.
The mayor said he was made aware of the crash while attending his daughter's high school graduation. He then shared what few details he had with other community leaders.
"It's a sad day for our community, for our whole county," Mayor Overmyer said. "It's a very unfortunate situation."
Sandusky County Commissioner Brad Smith attended the pancake breakfast yesterday with his wife and four children.
Mr. Smith, a candidate for the Sandusky County juvenile and probate judge seat, said he saw Mr. Ansted and his wife, who he knows politically, waiting in line for their plane ride.
His family had left the event prior to the crash.
"To realize a few hours later that six people have perished, it stops you in your tracks and hopefully makes you think a little more about what's important," Mr. Smith said last night. "This is something that will hit a lot of people in the community in a lot of different ways."
Having young children, Mr. Smith said it was especially difficult learning that a 4-year-old girl was among the victims.
"I can't imagine what the family is going through," he said.
The reality of the crash is still sinking in for those closest to the victims.
"This is just surreal. It's like it's not happening," said David Woolford, a family friend of the Ansted's.
Fellow commissioner Terry Thatcher was at his granddaughter's high school graduation when the mayor told him of the crash.
The details were sketchy, but the mayor was told Mr. Damschroder was among those dead.
Later, Mr. Thatcher received a call from Mr. Smith, who said "the news gets worse."
Mr. Ansted also had died.
"Death is a shock no matter how or when it comes," Mr. Thatcher said from his home last night. "Particularly when it's an accident that's so sudden, it's more of a shock."
Staff writer Alex M. Parker contributed to this report.
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