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R&B Star, Entourage Mourned

Tragedy: Five L.A. residents and three other people died in the fiery Bahamas crash of a chartered plane that killed Aaliyah. The cause remains unknown.

August 27, 2001|GEOFFREY MOHAN and CHARLES ORNSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

As shock and grief coursed through the entertainment industry over the death of rising R&B star Aaliyah in a Bahamas plane crash, families and colleagues mourned the loss of five Los Angeles residents who were among the nine people killed.

All were behind-the-scenes players in the Aaliyah phenomenon, from a video production executive to hair-and-makeup stylists, whose names either appear in tiny type in the liner notes on albums or aren't mentioned at all. All had traveled before with the 22-year-old artist, who had amassed several hit singles, a platinum-selling album, and two Grammy nominations en route to launching a film career, with four projects underway or pending.

The entourage, including Aaliyah, were leaving Abaco Island, in the Bahamas, when their twin-engine, chartered Cessna 402 crashed Saturday afternoon about 200 feet after takeoff and burst into flames. They had just finished filming a video for "Rock Da Boat," from Aaliyah's current hit album.

Initial reports at the scene in Marsh Harbour suggested that one of the plane's engines may have failed, but Bahamian civil aviation authorities could not be contacted Sunday. The National Transportation Safety Board was dispatching an investigator, who was expected to arrive on the island today, after the Bahamian government requested assistance, according to the NTSB.

Kathy Ralph, the Abaco fire department dispatcher, said that within 45 seconds of the crash two volunteer firefighters who happened to be at the airport waded into the swampy brush to tackle the blaze.

Ray Cooper, co-president of Virgin Records America, said Sunday that the young star's death cut short an artistic career "in dramatic ascendancy."

Cooper also mourned the others aboard the plane, including Douglas Kratz, 28, the label's director of video production, whom he described as "sharp, very focused thinker, a guy with quiet and authoritative manner."

Kratz often worked with younger, developing artists like Aaliyah, handling the planning for video productions, Cooper said. "For them," Cooper said, "he was the sympathetic hand on the wheel."

Although he taught himself keyboards and drums and played in a band, Kratz did not live the typical music industry life, shunning face-time with stars for grittier, creative work behind the scenes, said Robert Kratz, his brother.

"It just seemed like such an unusual match, that he was in such a public arena," he said.

Born in Pasadena, Texas, Kratz grew up in Burbank, graduated from Burbank High School in 1991 and earned an English literature degree at UC Berkeley.

Friends and relatives said crash victims Eric Forman, 29, and Anthony Dodd, 34, were up-and-coming stylists with an enviable clientele that included Jennifer Lopez, Luther Vandross, Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, and Destiny's Child.

The two came of age together--a street saga that included a drive-by shooting in South-Central eight years ago that left shotgun pellets in their bodies, said Charles Henderson, Forman's brother.

"They were walking down the street. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time," Henderson said. "It let them know they have more of a life to live. It was more mental than physical."

They not only survived, but were making it, and staying humble to boot, said Henderson, who gathered with friends in the backyard of his Mid-City house, where Dodd lived with him.

"They truly touched a lot of people's lives," said Gerald Murray, one of the friends. "They have been working together most of their lives. . . . They were just getting into the business. We were all just enjoying life."

Both traveled with Aaliyah frequently, including to recent shoots for the upcoming film "Queen of the Damned," a sequel to "Interview with a Vampire" in which Aaliyah had a part. Both were soon to be off to Australia, where Aaliyah was to shoot a sequel to "The Matrix."

"Eric traveled all the time with Aaliyah--he's been going places since the spring," said Dion Peronneau, owner of Dion Peronneau Agency, which represented the two. "Anthony was his lifelong friend. They are like my children."

Among other victims were Keith Wallace, 49, a Los Angeles resident who was a manager at Blackground Entertainment, part of the Virgin Records label family. Gina Smith, 29, who was also killed in the crash, was Aaliyah's product manager for Blackground.

Wallace, who lived in an apartment complex near Windsor Hills, was active in his church, a neighbor said. "He was very Christian. Everything he did, it was about the Lord," Effie Major said.

Also killed in the crash were Scott Gallin, 41, whose hometown was not available, and Christopher Maldonado, 32, of New Jersey, who also reportedly had a home in Los Angeles. The pilot, identified as L. Maradel, also died in the crash.

In the industry and among fans, reaction to Aaliyah's death was strong. At the annual Powerhouse back-to-school concert Saturday night at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, several artists found out about the death mid-show.

Star's Death Announced on Stage

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