Stern Produce CEO and family killed in plane crash

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX -- Three members of a prominent Valley family are dead following the crash of a small plane just outside of San Diego, Calif. Saturday. 

William Stern Jr. of Stern Produce, his wife, Jennifer and daughter, Katelyn, have been identified as those killed. 

As news of the deaths hit The Valley people began laying flowers and candles in the driveway of the family’s east Phoenix home.

“I think it's been really difficult for all of Katey’s and her family’s friends to really wrap our minds around what happened,” said Nick Giancola, a childhood friend of 19-year-old Katelyn.

“She just has the greatest smile and greatest laugh and it's something that honestly none of us will ever forget and it's still surreal that it's not coming back,” said Jessica Michael, another childhood friend of Katelyn.

William Stern Jr., 65, was president and CEO of Stern Produce. The family owned company has been a fruits and vegetables distributor in the valley since 1917. Stern Produce has locations in Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff.

Katelyn's friend, Jessica, told 3TV that William Jr. was an avid pilot.

“We went on childhood vacations together and flew with their family,” said Jessica. “It's just something you would never think about going awry because it was just such a normal part of their routine.”

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating to find out exactly what happened. The plane they were in was a Lancair International IV-P aircraft kit no-longer in production according to Lancair's website.

William Stern Jr. has a son, William Stern III. He is listed as vice president of Stern Produce and apparently wasn't with the family when the plane went down.