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WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 3, 2007
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NTSB cites alcohol in ex-judge's plane crash

By Deangelo McDaniel
dmcdaniel@decaturdaily.com 340-2469

HARTSELLE — Failure to maintain proper airspeed was one probable cause in the plane crash that killed a former Morgan County circuit judge.

The National Transportation Safety Board said "ostentatious display and impairment due to alcohol" were also factors in the accident that killed pilot Tom B. Coggin, 66, of Cullman.

Coggin's single-engine experimental plane crashed in a field near Hartselle's Rountree Field on July 24.

The cause of death was blunt force trauma, according to NTSB officials.

Flight controls revealed no evidence of pre-crash mechanical failure or malfunction, the NTSB said.

Investigators said the plane's performance data showed that the aircraft would stall if its speed fell below 49 mph.

In their official report of the crash, investigators said Coggin's airplane "collided with the ground in a descending nose down attitude."

'Aerobatic maneuvers'

The NTSB said several pilots from Coggin's home base stated that Coggin "often made high speed passes and performed aerobatic maneuvers over and around the airport area and runway."

Coggin, who graduated from Athens High School in 1958, earned a bachelor's degree from Jacksonville State University in 1962 and a law degree from Cumberland School of Law in 1970.

After the Legislature created the 8th Circuit judgeship in 1972, serving Morgan and Limestone counties, voters elected Coggin. When the counties split into two circuits, he was elected again and served Morgan County.

On Jan. 31, 1981, he was arrested in Florida after authorities located his plane on air customs radar and followed it to St. Lucie County International Airport.

In the plane, authorities found 98.6 pounds of marijuana, $2,000 cash in one of Coggin's boots, and a .38-caliber pistol.

After entering his guilty plea in Florida, Coggin resigned as judge.

The Alabama State Bar disbarred him Oct. 30, 1981.

In January 1993 he applied unsuccessfully to have his license reinstated.

Coggin's death was the first involving an aircraft near Rountree Field since Guy Spivey died in a helicopter crash about 12 years ago.

Coggin, who received a private pilot certificate in Oklahoma on June 24, 1997, crashed less than an hour after his plane left Cullman between 6:30 and 6:45 a.m.

He did not file a flight plan because "visual meteorological conditions prevailed," the NTSB said.

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