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Three victims of Santa Monica plane crash identified

October 04, 2013|By Ruben Vives
  • Investigators stand near the tail section of the twin-engine plane that crashed Sunday outside a hangar at Santa Monica Airport.
Investigators stand near the tail section of the twin-engine plane that… (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles…)

Los Angeles  County coroner’s officials Friday identified three of the four victims killed in a crash last weekend at Santa Monica Airport.

Mark Benjamin, 63, of Malibu; Kyla Dupont, 53, of San Diego; and Lauren Winkler, 28, of Irvine, were killed when their twin-engine Cessna Citation touched down, then veered right off the runway and crashed into a storage hangar, bursting into flames and collapsing the building.

Officials have not identified the fourth victim.

Earlier this week, however, a Los Angeles-based construction company identified two of the victims as employees of the firm. The company said Chief Executive Mark Benjamin and his 28-year-old son, Luke, a senior project engineer -- believed to be the fourth victim -- were on board the plane when it crashed.

In a statement to The Times, Charles Muttillo, vice president of Morley Builders, said employees would carry on the legacy of Mark Benjamin, who had taken over the business from his father, Morley, the company’s founder.

“We are proud to be associated with the company that Mark’s family founded. He had a profound influence on each of our employees, the Southern California landscape, our local community and the construction industry. We are committed to building on his legacy.”

Winkler was the younger Benjamin’s girlfriend, according to a blog on BusinessGhost, a ghost-writing company based in Irvine. The blog’s author, Michael Levin, described himself as being good friends with Winkler’s father.

Winkler was a fundraiser and executive at Save A Child’s Heart, an international organization that provides free open-heart surgery in Israeli hospitals for African and Middle Eastern children. According to the organization’s website, Winkler was a UCLA graduate who produced commercials in Los Angeles, New York and Tel Aviv.

The Benjamins, Winkler and Dupont were returning to Santa Monica from Hailey, Idaho, a frequent trip Mark Benjamin made as a member of the Idaho Conservation League’s board of directors. He also owned a second home in Ketchum, which is about 12 miles north of Hailey.

According to the league, Mark Benjamin last month shuttled fellow board members on his private jet to Boise, Hailey, Idaho Falls and finally Santa Monica.

The National Transportation Safety Board started an investigation the night of the crash and began inspecting the plane Monday. But investigators have paused their inquiry because of the partial federal government shutdown that began Tuesday.

Before suspending its inquiry, the agency moved the wreckage to a secure site, where it will be stored until the investigation can resume.

U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) asked Deborah A.P. Hersman, who heads the National Transportation Safety Board, to broaden the agency's investigation beyond determining the cause of Sunday evening's crash. He asked that the agency look into residents’ concerns about safety for the airport’s neighbors.

Hersman said she would take Waxman's request under advisement.


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