Julianne “Juli” Wagner, 36, of Utah, was killed in a helicopter crash in Tennessee on December 29. Police said the pilot was a man who was not licensed to fly on bail in Utah. (Family photo)
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SALT LAKE CITY – Friends of Utah woman killed in Tennessee helicopter crash last month speak out because they say pilot, also from Utah, shouldn’t have flown at all.
And Utah prosecutors agree.
Julianne “Juli” Wagner, 36, of Lindon, was killed when the helicopter crashed through the Great Smoky Mountains in an area south of Cosby, Tennessee on December 29. She was a passenger in a Robinson R-44 helicopter piloted by Matthew Jones, 35, which fell about eight minutes after take off from Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport in “overcast, misty and foggy” conditions, according to WBIR in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Jones was hospitalized in Tennessee with undisclosed injuries sustained in the crash, the outlet said. The station also reported that an FAA database had incorrectly listed Wagner as the helicopter pilot; Jones was in command, according to a report from the Cocke County Sheriff’s Office, and Wagner would not have known how to fly the plane, friends told the station.
Officials at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Utah said Jones shouldn’t have flown – and shouldn’t have been out of state.
Federal court records show Jones, of Spanish Fork, was charged with fraud and exploitation as an aviator without an aviator’s certificate on October 13.
Prosecution documents say Jones “identified himself as the owner and operator of Noctem Aviation and a certified flight instructor in helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.” The charges added that he introduced himself as a certified flight instructor in text messages and on social media with a client in 2019.
Prosecutors also allege that he also took money from a joint bank account with the client and used the money for personal expenses.
While the case remains in Utah U.S. District Court, Jones was released on several conditions, including that he was not allowed to fly a plane or leave the state without permission. Records show a violation hearing was scheduled for December 22 – a week before the crash – after prosecutors charged Jones with using marijuana on December 5, which would also violate the terms of the accident. his release.
Gina Blake, a friend of Wagner’s, told KSL-TV on Thursday that Wagner had recently started dating Jones and that Wagner had said days before the crash that the two wanted to open a helicopter travel business.
Blake said she was not aware of Jones’ federal case until details were revealed following the fatal crash.
“I am really angry,” she said. “I feel like he’s a con artist who made his way into Juli’s life.”
Wagner, who would have turned 37 on Sunday, is survived by a 7-year-old son. Her friends and family remembered her as “a bright, strange, witty, compassionate, independent and free-spirited person” in an obituary posted online.
The obituary added that Wagner enjoyed hiking and camping, and also found that “compassion was his religion.”
“She has made it a priority to spend her time and resources fighting for a better, safer world for women, LGBTQ + people and racial minorities,” the obituary reads. “Animal rights, reproductive rights and environmental conservation were also causes close to his heart.”
Blake added that Wagner “had a very big and beautiful heart and that she loved people.” A service to remember his life is planned for next week in Provo.
As for Jones, the U.S. Attorney’s Office told KSL-TV on Thursday that it would depend on his medical condition as to when he is brought back to Utah and prosecuted in the federal case. He stayed in a Tennessee hospital this week.
A public defender assigned to Jones filed a motion on Friday to postpone a jury trial to a later date. The document notes that his trial was due to begin later this month; however, the motion seeks to allow at least 90 days to allow Jones to be “ready to stand trial.” The document makes no mention of the crash.
Contributing: Tamara Vaifanua