Inventor killed in Ohio plane crash described as 'brilliant'

Donald Brown invented the dropped ceiling and filed for a patent for it in the late 1950s.


Published: Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 19, 2010 at 11:46 p.m.

Donald A. Brown, the father of an Alachua County businessman and one of four people killed in Ohio when a plane out of Gainesville crashed Monday, was a "brilliant" man and the inventor of the dropped ceiling, said an Ohio mayor.

"He was like the Thomas Edison of today," Avon Mayor Jim Smith said Tuesday.

Brown, 89, and his wife Shirley, 87, died along with pilot Wesley Roemer, 30, of Keystone Heights, and John Mengelson, 46, of Florahome, chief mechanic and co-pilot, when the midsized turboprop plane they were in crashed at Lorain County Regional Airport in Elyria, Ohio, just after 2 p.m. Monday, the Ohio State Highway Patrol reported.

The plane had traveled from Gainesville and, according to relatives and acquaintances of those on board, had been bringing the Browns home. One of the couple's sons is Kenneth Brown, the owner of Kenn Air in Gainesville.

A cause for the crash has not been determined, and the investigation could take more than a year, said Peter Knudson, spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board. A preliminary report from the Federal Aviation Administration reported that the plane, listed in reports as a 2002 Mitsubishi MU-2B-60 that could seat eight, had crashed short of the runway while on approach.

News reports from Ohio said the plane nose-dived into the ground when the pilot tried to land.

The crash occurred about a quarter-mile from the end of the runway, Knudson said. Visibility was about 2- 1/2 miles with a cloud layer starting at about 500 feet. Knudson confirmed that investigators had gathered radar information and air traffic communications. The plane did not have any instrumentation to record engine or instrument performance, which would not be unusual for a plane that size.

Funeral arrangements for those killed had not been announced Tuesday.

A dropped ceiling is a secondary ceiling, also called a suspended ceiling, that conceals wiring and ductwork. Brown invented it and filed for a patent for it in the late 1950s.

"He invented the suspended ceiling and the stuff to make it, and worldwide, that had quite an impact on building," Smith said.

Brown and his wife lived in a multimillion-dollar home off of Lake Erie in Vermilion, Ohio, about 20 miles west of Avon. Brown owned property in the Avon area and sometimes would drop in on Smith.

Smith said Brown never stopped working and thinking about inventions.

Brown would talk to him about ways to improve the area and ideas that he would bounce off others, such as using magnets under highways to propel traffic.

"His mind was continuously going," Smith said. "He was a marvelous mind, and his mind was a treasure."

Brown's home, Smith said, is "the gadget house of all gadget houses" with a barbershop and helicopter pad. Until a few years ago, Smith said Brown had people at the house who would work on inventions he had thought up.

The house also had a breakfast nook, Smith said, that with a press of a button, would move up from the lake level to the third floor and slowly revolve. He made it that way so anyone could see the sun rise or set without having to look over their shoulder. And so his wife wouldn't have to back out of the garage, the garage floor would turn around after the vehicle was parked so she could just drive out of the building without backing out.

Smith said he last saw Brown about two years ago at a local Wal-Mart.

"I think he was just looking around," still coming up with and collecting ideas, Smith said.

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