“I’m really mad”: friend of Utah woman who was killed in a helicopter crash in Tennessee, speaks up

Julianne “Juli” Wagner, 36, of Utah, was killed in a helicopter crash in Tennessee on December 29th. Police say the pilot was a man who was banned from flying in Utah under conditions of a provisional release. (Family photo)

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SALT LAKE CITY – Friends of a Utah woman who was killed in a helicopter crash in Tennessee last month speak out because they say the Utah pilot shouldn’t have flown at all.

And the Utah prosecutors agree.

Julianne “Juli” Wagner, 36, of Lindon, was killed when the helicopter crashed from the Great Smoky Mountains in an area south of Cosby, Tennessee, on December 29th. She was the passenger of a Robinson R-44 helicopter owned by Matthew. The driver was Jones, 35, who went down about eight minutes after take-off from Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport in “overcast, drizzly and foggy” conditions WBIR in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Jones was hospitalized with undisclosed injuries in the crash, according to the Tennessee point of sale. The station also reported that a report from the Cocke County Sheriff‘s Office found that Wagner was the helicopter’s pilot.

U.S. Attorney’s Office officials in Utah said Jones shouldn’t have flown – and shouldn’t have left the state.

Federal court records show that Jones, of Spanish Fork, was charged on October 13 with fraud and non-certified aviator activity.

The indictment states that Jones “posed as the owner and operator of Noctem Aviation and a certified flight instructor in helicopters and fixed wing aircraft.” He presented the added fees to a customer in 2019 as a certified flight instructor in text messages and social media.

Prosecutors also allege that he also took money from a shared bank account with the client and used the money for personal expenses.

While the case remains in the US District Court of Utah, Jones has been released on several conditions, including not being allowed to fly airplanes or leave the state without permission. Records show that a violations hearing was scheduled for December 22, a week before the crash, after prosecutors accused Jones of using marijuana on December 5, which would also violate the terms of his release.

Gina Blake, a friend of Wagner, told KSL-TV on Thursday that Wagner recently started dating Jones and days before the crash, Wagner said the two wanted to open a helicopter tour business.

Blake said she did not know about Jones’ federal case until details emerged after the fatal crash.

“I’m really angry,” she said. “I feel like he’s a con who crept into Juli’s life.”

Wagner, who would have turned 37 on Sunday, leaves behind a 7-year-old son. She was remembered by friends and family as “a bright, strange, funny, compassionate, independent, and free-thinking person” in an obituary posted online.

The obituary added that Wagner enjoyed hiking and camping and that “compassion was their religion”.

“She has primarily spent her time and resources fighting for a better world, a world that is safer for women, LGBTQ + and racial minorities,” the obituary said. “Animal rights, reproductive rights and environmental protection were also important to her.”

Blake added that Wagner “had a really big, beautiful heart and loved people”. A service to commemorate their lives is scheduled for next week in Provo.

As for Jones, US prosecutors told KSL-TV on Thursday that it will depend on his state of health when he will be returned to Utah and prosecuted in the federal case. He stayed in a Tennessee hospital that week.

A public defense attorney assigned to Jones filed a motion to reschedule a jury trial on Friday. The document states that its trial should start later this month; However, the motion stipulates a period of at least 90 days for Jones “to be ready to go to court”. The document does not mention the crash.

Contribute: Tamara Vaifanua

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