Families angered by vandalism to Piatt Street plane crash memorial

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WICHITA, Kan. -- A day like any other.

That's how Victor Daniels says January 16, 1965 began. Then 10 years old, Victor went to play. A little while later, he heard the noise.

"All of a sudden, I heard this big rumble outside and looked over toward this direction and seen a bunch of smoke," Daniels said.

A KC-135 Tanker had crashed into his neighborhood near 20th and Piatt, killing four of his family members.

"My grandmother, father, two cousins, and a family friend (were killed)," Daniels said.

Now, he and other family members of the 7 crew members and 23 people on the ground who were killed say they feel as though they've been dealt another blow.

They say vandals have repeatedly damaged the memorial they worked more than 40 years to build at the crash site.

"When you think about what happened here, it shouldn't be something to destroy, it should be something to pray about," said Frank Epps, whose family lives near the crash site.

Larry Hoetmer of the city Parks Department says he's also upset. Hoetmer oversaw the design and construction of the monument that included five granite benches.

"It's disappointing, especially when you work this hard to do something for the community and it's something the community takes a lot of pride in," Hoetmer said.

Since the memorial was erected in 2007, the benches have been vandalized at least three times. Some of the benches were broken in half.

"It would take a major object to do this kind of damage," Hoetmer said.

Three of those benches now sit in pieces in a city maintenance lot, leaving only two intact at the memorial site.

Hoetmer says the city has increased lighting in the area near the park to deter vandals. They've also considered installing cameras. But they say the costs and logistics prevent them from pursuing that option.

As they prepare to replace the benches for the third time, they are looking at changing the design.

"We're going to have to reassess the design of these particular benches and look at a type of design that would hold up better to this kind of vandalism," Hoetmer said.

While they understand why the city is pursuing a change in design, family members say it's still frustrating. They want the memorial to be the way it was envisioned and built in the first place.

They say they'd like to see the vandals caught.

"A lot of the vandals in the neighborhood don't realize how significant this park is to the people who lost loved ones," Daniels said.

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