Plane crash kills Iowa trooper, misses motel

The Des Moines Register, October 15, 1990
by Tom Alex and Jeffrey Bruner, Register Staff Writers

An Iowa State Patrol trooper died Sunday morning when the plane he was piloting crashed close to a crowded motel as he followed a truck being sought by authorities.

Trooper Allen Nieland, 41, of Iowa City died in the 7:30 a.m. crash about 5 miles east of Williamsburg at the Little Amana development on Interstate Highway 80. Authorities arrested a man more than three hours later and charged him with vehicular homicide in the trooper's death.

"He was a very, very experienced pilot because he knew where to take it and not hurt anyone," said Barb Iburg, manager of the Super 8 motel near the crash site. The plane crashed in a grassy field about one-eighth of a mile south of the motel, which was packed with fans who had attended the University of Iowa-Wisconsin football game Saturday in Iowa City.

The single-engine Cessna 172 took off from Cedar Rapids at 7:20 a.m. and crashed 10 minutes later in a farm field near the intersection of Interstate 80 and U.S. Highway 151, said Sandra Campbell, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration in Kansas City, Mo.

State Patrol Chief Col. Baline Goff said the plane caught fire after it crashed. He said Nieland was in radio contact with the Cedar Rapids airport and did not indicate any problems before the crash. Nation Transportation Safety Board investigators arrived at the scene Sunday afternoon.

The nose of the plane was broken off and separated from the rest of the wreckage on the ground, and the entire aircraft was badly charred. Only a few of the plane's identification numbers, N99862, were visible.

Authorities arrested Walter W. Garris, 29, at 11 a.m. about three miles north of Oxford in Johnson County. Garris, who had no known address, was being held Sunday night at the Iowa County jail on $600,000 bond after being charged with vehicular homicide. Authorities said the truck Garris was driving had been stolen in Reno, Nev.

Garris was captured at the Larry Lovetinsky home north of Oxford after resident in the area had been alerted to the fugitive's presence.

Garris came to Lovetinsky's door. Lovetinsky said he slammed the door in the fugitive's face and went outside via another door. Lovetinsky met his friend Eric Stewart, who was armed, and together they took Garris into custody.

"Eric kept the gun on him and I frisked him," Lovetinsky said.

Garris was not armed, Lovitinsky said. "He was all soggy like he'd been running through wet weeds," he added.

Word was that the woman riding with him jumped out of the truck in Oxford, Lovetinsky said, taking the keys with her, but that report could not be confirmed.

Iowa County authorities said Garris was also wanted in New York State on drug charges. They declined to identify a man and a woman who were passengers in the truck.

Poweshiek County sheriff's officials said Garris picked up the unidentified may and woman passengers as hitchhikers in Nevada. On Sunday morning the man was left behind at the Star Inn at the Interstate 80 exit for What Cheer and Belle Plaine. He called authorities to say his belongings were traveling east in the truck and he wanted them back, beginning the pursuit.

Poweschiek county officials said they are considering charges.

The crash could have become a major disaster had the plane struck the motel.

"It was no doubt a close call for the motel," said Hope Gingerich, desk clerk at the Super 8. A trooper said the plane hit the ground not far from the motel. All but 15 rooms of the 62-room motel were occupied at the time, Gingerich said.

Motel manager Iburg said her friends, Lowell and Jan Jones, were staying in a camper behind the motel and heard what sounded like an engine stalling twice. Iburg said Jan Jones told her the plane was headed in the general direction of the hotel.

Like Two Cars Crashing

Colleen Bair, head maid at the motel, looked out the window when the plane hit.

"It sounded like two cars crashing," Bair said. The plane did not catch fire on impact. Bair said she ran downstairs, shouted at Gingerich that a plane had crashed and together they ran outside.

"As we were running down the hallway we heard the explosion," Gingerich said.

Bair said three state troopers arrived on the scene before she did. They used up two fire extinguishers on the plane and a third from the motel, but they were not enough against the smoky flames.

"They told us there was one person inside, but you couldn't see inside for the smoke and flames," Gingerich said. "Someone grabbed the fire extinguisher from me and used it, but it didn't put it our. You have to try thought. It was just a matter of waiting for the fire department."

Wife Was in Church

Nieland's wife, Julie, was attending services at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Iowa City at about 8:30 a.m. Sunday when a church elder took her from the sanctuary and told her her husband had been involved in a plane crash.

"There were a lot of wet eyes when they heard the news because he was highly loved by the congregation," the Rev. Robert Bailey, pastor of the church, said. "He was a strong, vibrant force in the congregation."

Bailey said Allen Nieland served as a church elder for four years; was a member of the Good News Singers, the church choir; and regularly attended adult Bible classes when he wasn't on duty as a state trooper.

"He had a beautiful tenor solo voice," said Bailey.

The accident was the second fatal Iowa State Patrol airplane crash in just over 15 months.

1989 Killed 2 Troopers

On June 30, 1989, troopers Lance G. Dietsch, 30, of Council Bluffs and Stanley E. Gerling, 34, of Atlantic died when the plane they were riding in crashed in a soybean field south of Atlantic. They were the first Iowa troopers to die in an airplane crash.

Dietsch was the pilot. He and Gerling were involved in a search for a man who had wondered away from a nursing home. They were circling the man's location to direct ground searchers when the plane crashed.

Pilot error probably caused the crash, Nation Transportation Safety Board investigators ruled last month. The airplane was going too slowly and stalled, the board said.

Nieland is the ninth trooper to be killed in the line of duty since the patrol was established in 1935.

Besides his wife, Nieland is survived by two sons, Eric, 4, and Ryan, 18 months; two daughters, Andrea, 18, of Florida and Jeanette, 15 of Fort Dodge; his parents of Manson, three brothers; and two sisters.


Hundreds Bid Farewell to Trooper

The Press-Citizen, October 18, 1990
By Valoree Armstrong

Family, friends and hundreds of law officers gathered Wednesday to remember Allen P. Nieland as a man who loved his family, his church and his job as a state trooper.

"He fought the good fight, he finished the course and he kept the faith," the Rev. Robert Bailey said.

Nieland, 41, died Sunday when his plane crashed near Little Amana during the case of a suspect in a Poweshiek County theft. He is survived by his wife, Julie, and his children Eric, Ryan, Jeanette and Andrea.

Eight hundred to 900 people packed Our Redeemer Lutheran Church to mourn Nieland's death and celebrate his life. More than 300 state, county and city law officers attended, lining the walls of the church as well as the halls and entryways. Troopers traveled from a half-dozen surrounding states. Gov. Terry Branstad also paid his respects to the family.

Nieland joined the Iowa State Patrol in 1982. He earned his pilot's license in 1984. He also was a retired guardsman.

Nieland was devoted to his work, but he was also dedicated to his faith in god, his pastor said.

Bailey described Nieland as an active member of the church, serving on the Board of Elders and the Board of Christian Growth, teaching Sunday school and singing with the Good News Singers. He kept his Bible with him while he patrolled, and he wasn't' shy about talking with Bailey about his faith and sharing it with others.

"He lived and died in that conviction and in that faith," Bailey said.

"Allen has won the victory."

Nieland was buried at Memory Gardens Cemetery. Rows upon rows of uniformed officers saluted as Nieland's coffin, shrouded in an American flag, was brought to the graveside. During Nieland's committal, he received a twenty-one-gun-salute from a local National Guard unit. Seven member of the unit fired three volleys, a shot three times simultaneously.

In a final farewell, the group listened as the notes of Taps filled the fall air.


Pilot Error Blamed in Trooper's Death

Omaha World-Herald, October 17, 1990

Iowa City, Iowa (AP) - Pilot error was probably the cause of a crash that killed State Trooper Allen Nieland as he was pursuing a robbery suspect driving a stolen vehicle, a federal official said Tuesday.

Nieland, 41, of Iowa City, died Sunday morning when his single-engine Cessna 172 crashed five miles east of Williamsburg at the Little Amana development on Interstate 80. He was helping patrol card on the group pursue Walter Garris, 29, when his plane crashed in a field about 100 yards from a crowded hotel.

Stephen Wilson, an investigator from Nation Transportation Safety Board headquarters in West Chicago, Ill., and a team of investigators spent Sunday and Monday talking with people who witnessed the crash.

"They seemed to indicate the pilot was pretty low, trying to avoid some power and telephone wired in the area," Wilson said.

"I think he got too low and got himself boxed in with the wires," he said. "He may have made an abrupt maneuver to avoid the wires, and that lead to his downfall."

Asked whether the crash was due to pilot error, Wilson said, "That's probably what it amounts to."

Garris is being held in the Iowa County Jail in Marengo on $6000,000 bond after being charged with homicide by vehicle, a felony.

A final NTSB report probably won't be ready for another six months.

There were reports that shots were fired during the case, but Wilson said investigator found no evidence of bullet holes on the plane.

"We couldn't find anything mechanically wrong with the airplane. And the autopsy report cam back negative, which means he didn't have heart failure of anything like that," Wilson said.

Nieland joined the patrol in 1982 and has been flying patrol planes since 1984.

A funeral service is scheduled today at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, where Nieland was a former church elder and sang in the choir.

More than 100 patrol officers, police officers and National Guardsman, as well as Gov. Barnstad, are expected at the service, said Patrol Capt. Fred Burger.

Nieland had recently retired from a National Guard unit stationed in Des Moines, Burger said.

"There might be a large contingent of the National Guard representatives there," he said.

Troopers from the patrol's 14 district offices around the state will be on hand, as well as representatives from surrounding states, Burger said.

"I would expect a sizable turnout," he said.

The patrol is trying to reach a trooper on assignment in western Iowa who will play "Taps" on a bugle, Burger said.

Nieland is the ninth trooper to be killed in the line of duty since the patrol was established in 1935. Sunday's accident was the second fatal Iowa State Patrol airplane crash in less than two years.

On June 30, 1989, troopers Lance G. Dietsch, 30, of Council Bluffs and Stanley E. Gerling, 34, of Atlantic died when the plane piloted by Dietsch crashed in a soybean field south of Atlantic. They were the first troopers to die in an airplane crash.

The men had been searching for a man who had wondered away form a nursing home. The NTSB said pilot error probably caused the crash of the plane, which was going too slowly and stalled.

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