Two members of Congress from New York called on the National Transportation Safety Board to reverse its decision not to send an investigator to the scene of a small plane crash that killed a prominent attorney and his niece.
Reps. Brian Higgins, a Democrat, and Chris Jacobs, a Republican, called it “extremely concerning” that coronavirus protocols would keep the NTSB from sending anyone to the western New York site where personal injury lawyer Steve Barnes and his niece Elizabeth Barnes died in Friday’s crash.
“While appropriate precautions to prevent COVID-19 spread and infection are of the utmost importance, the agency must develop and execute an appropriate plan to adequately and safely examine the crash site as soon as possible,” the two Congress members said Saturday in a letter to NTSB officials posted on Twitter.
Barnes was well known for the catchy TV jingle advertising his law firm, Cellino & Barnes. Authorities said he was piloting the single-engine Socata TBM-700 that crashed at midday Friday near Pembroke, New York.
NTSB officials said in a statement Saturday that they would not send staff members to the crash site. “The decision to not travel to the scene included assessment of COVID-19 risks,” they said. The NTSB said its investigator would gather information “from a variety of sources” and a preliminary report would be issued in the next few weeks.
Higgins and Jacobs said in their letter that “no community knows the importance of an NTSB investigation more than Western New York,” a reference to the February 2009 plane crash that killed 50 people outside Buffalo.
A message seeking comment on the Congress members’ letter was sent to the NTSB.
"It is with great sadness that I learned of the tragic passing of Steve Barnes in a plane crash. Steve and I worked together for many years at our firm. He was always a fearless advocate for his clients," the statement from Cellino read. "His passing is a significant loss for the legal community."
Cellino & Barnes began as small firm in Buffalo but became well known in New York City and beyond for its ubiquitous advertising on billboards and on television.
Its old-time jingle, in which the law firm’s phone number was put to song, has been the subject of a sketch on Saturday Night Live, and other late-night TV host jokes for years. Broadway actors in 2018 posted viral videos of themselves singing the jingle in what was dubbed the “Cellino & Barnes Challenge.”
Cellino said that Barnes is survived by his three children, and his longtime partner Ellen Sturm, who is also an attorney at the firm.
"All of us at Cellino & Barnes are deeply saddened," Cellino said in his statement.