Published On: Mon, Jun 2nd, 2014

Sports and Media Mogul Lewis Katz Dies Tragically In Plane Crash

Private plane crash takes the life of Lewis Katz and six other people.

On May 31st the philanthropist and self made businessman Lewis Katz died in a plane crash which also took the lives of six other people. His private Gulfstream IV jet plane crashed and caught fire killing all seven people on board, including the flight crew. Mr. Katz was on his way to Atlantic City. He was 72 years old.

As the small plane took off from Hanscom Air Field in Bedford Massachusetts, it reportedly burst into flames. The twin engine plane never got off the ground, according to reports, and most of its fuselage was destroyed in the ensuing fire. The victims included Anne Leeds, 74, wife of Longport, NJ commissioner Jim Leeds, and Marcella Dalsey, executive director of Drew A. Katz foundation.

The crash caused a fire whose smoke was seen for miles around. A fourteen year old witness whose home is adjacent to the air field, Jared Patterson, said, “It was gigantic. It just kept rising and rising — it was awful. I didn’t expect anyone to come out. The flames were just engulfing it.”

The news of Mr. Katz death was shocking, coming only four days after he won his bid to gain control of the Philadelphia Enquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News.

Lewis Katz was a lawyer by training who later became a successful businessman. After serving as a clerk for Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice John C. Bell, he became a founding partner of, and served as of counsel to, the law firm Katz, Ettin & Levine. Katz liked to tell the people how his mother had wanted him to be a doctor, but he could not stand the sight of blood.

A native of Camden, New Jersey, Katz had many different business interests over the years. His initial success came with the billboard advertising company Interstate Outdoor Advertising of Cherry Hill New Jersey which he founded in 1984 and chaired until 1998.

He was chief executive officer of Kinney System Holding Corp., the largest operator of parking lots in the New York area, from 1990 to 1998, when he sold it for $225 million.

That was when Katz decided to become a sports franchise owner with the purchase of the NBA’s then New Jersey Nets in 1998. Together with Raymond Chambers, former chairman of Wesray Capital Corp, he led a group of New Jersey real-estate developers that acquired the team.

Katz partnered with New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and created YankeesNets. When Steinbrenner established his own cable television sports network, Yes, Katz joined him as a partner. In 2000 he expanded his professional sports empire by acquiring hockey’s New Jersey Devils through a YankeesNets affiliate Puck Holdings.

Together with Chambers, Katz ran the Nets for six successful seasons, in which the team reached the NBA finals twice, but failed to win a championship. The team was sold in 2004.

The self-made businessman’s most recent foray was in the world of journalism. Together with a group of partners, Katz purchased two Philadelphia daily newspapers in 2012 for $55 million. But he was unable to agree with his fellow managing partner, George Norcross, as to the direction of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News.

The two men went to court where it was decided that the papers should be sold at auction. On May 27th, together with partner Gerry Lenfest, Katz won the auction with an $88 million bid.

Mr. Katz was also a well known philanthropist. He founded and directed the Katz Foundation, which supports charitable, educational and medical causes. Recently he pledged to donate $25 million to Temple University in Philadelphia. The school, in turn, announced that it would name its medical school for Katz.

His $15 million gift to The Dickinson School of Law at Pennsylvania State University paid for a new law school building there with his name on it.

When Katz owned the Nets, he formed a trust through which the franchise’s profits went to help inner-city schools in Camden and elsewhere in New Jersey.

About himself, Katz said, “I know I was lucky. The value of businesses often turns on things beyond your control. Parking, billboards, and banking all consolidated while I was in them and that boosted their value.”

In a statement released after the crash, Katz’s son Drew said of his father, “My father was my best friend. He taught me everything. He never forgot where and how he grew up, and he worked tirelessly to support his community in countless ways that were seen and unseen. He loved his native city of Camden and his adopted home of Philadelphia.”

America’s National Traffic Safety Board is currently investigating the crash.

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