Shareholder deal blocks auction of airpark in Harford

New majority owners agree to drop legal claims against group

March 18, 2004|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

The auction of a Harford County airpark, which gained national attention in 1994 after a pilot stole a plane from there and crashed it on the White House lawn, was stopped unexpectedly yesterday by an early-morning deal that kept the airpark in the hands of two of its shareholders.

But in a twist, the two shareholders were also involved in lawsuits against the Harford County Airpark in the 1990s that ultimately pushed it to insolvency.

Fred Simmons, an Aberdeen insurance agent and a trustee at Harford Community College, and Churchville accountant Steven Wright are to become majority owners of the park in exchange for dropping further legal claims against the Harford County Airpark Owners Group Inc., Wright said yesterday.

"It's the start of a new beginning with the airport," said Wright. "What we want to do is to maintain the airport operations but to expand the enthusiasm of aviation in the community."

Simmons said he could also see marketing short-hop trips to places such as Atlantic City, N.J., for residents. Wright agreed, noting that trips to Cape May, N.J., the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland are quick and easy from the county.

The airpark, on Aldino Road north of Aberdeen, is home to about 50 small planes and gliders, and sits outside the tightly controlled Baltimore-Washington and Philadelphia air spaces.

In September 1994, the small airfield drew national attention after Frank Corder, a Cecil County resident with a history of drug and alcohol abuse, crashed a stolen Cessna from the airpark on the lawn of the White House. Corder was killed.

Pitching in $500

In yesterday's deal, the more than three dozen airpark stockholders agreed to issue about 4,500 outstanding shares of the total 5,000 shares in the business to Simmons and Wright, Simmons said.

John Schnell, president of the owners group for about a year and a stockholder since the early 1990s, said most shareholders pitched in $500 for a share here and there because they love flying and wanted to help support the airpark. Schnell owns two shares.

The Fallston resident flew in the Air Force for 20 years. The airpark is a "wonderful, warm community place," where he has seen many young people develop a love of flying, including his daughter, he said.

"I'd rather focus on the uplifting points than some of the downsides of the legal action," Schnell said.

Plaintiffs in lawsuit

Simmons and Wright were shareholders previously; Simmons was president of the group in the 1990s and Wright was chief financial officer, according to court records.

Both men had been plaintiffs in separate lawsuits against the Harford County Airport Owners Group Inc. in the 1990s over improvements at the site overseen by Simmons and accounting work done for the business by Wright.

Each alleged he was defamed by the disputes, according to court records. In November 2002, a Harford County jury awarded Wright $2.1 million. Simmons had a case pending against the owners group, court records show.

Kevin Hess, airpark manager and owner of a flight school and maintenance business there, said yesterday that the deal brings some relief to people who have been at the park during the past decade.

"It's been one of those things in the background since it started," said Hess, who lives in Fallston. "That's the kind of relief I'm feeling - at least something can take place."

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