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Seven with links to San Diego area perished in crash

Leonel Sanchez

02-Nov-1999 Tuesday

Robert and Mary Rice were retirees from La Mesa who liked to travel around
the world and were eager to do a little walking in Egypt and Israel.

Gavin Stearns was the dutiful son who called his parents in Chula Vista
before leaving for Egypt with his Bay Area friends. The computer specialist
was looking forward to sailing down the Nile.

Yesterday, their names appeared on the list of 217 passengers who were
aboard EgyptAir Flight 990 when it plunged into the Atlantic Ocean on

At least seven passengers with San Diego ties died in the early morning
crash off Nantucket Island.

The others who lived here were David and Betty Van Buskirk of the College
Area and Jerry and Barbara Freeman of Alpine. Relatives confirmed they were
aboard Flight 990 on Sunday as the names of some of the passengers
gradually became known.

The Van Buskirks, who were retired from San Diego city schools, and the
Freemans were longtime friends who were traveling together to the Middle

Mourners left flowers and cards in front of their homes yesterday. San
Diego Mayor Susan Golding ended yesterday's City Council meeting with
prayers for the families of those who perished.

At the Islamic Center of San Diego, prayers of remembrance were being
offered in Arabic for the victims and their families at each of the five
daily worship services.

The congregation in Clairemont includes about 200 Egyptians, none of whom
had friends or family aboard the jetliner.

Charlotte and Ron Stanley initially had ruled out that their son, Gavin
Stearns, was on Flight 990.

And then the Sunday afternoon phone calls came.

First, it was the Boston-based travel agency that booked her son's flight,
followed by calls from EgyptAir and the U.S. State Department. Stearns, of
Los Altos, had been aboard the ill-fated flight.

"I've lost my son," Charlotte Stanley said in an anguished voice. "Nothing
is going to bring him back."

She and her husband of 33 years, Ron Stanley, consoled each other yesterday
morning inside their home, where Stearns grew up.

Stearns, 40, graduated from Hilltop High School and soon after embarked on
a career in computers that took him to Boston and in recent years to the
Silicon Valley, where he worked for Aspect Development as a computerized
storage specialist.

"He was very generous," said Charlotte Stanley. "He was full of love and

Stearns was traveling with his longtime friend and roommate, Paula Barnes;
her boyfriend, Kurt Schwenk; and members of the Barnes and Schwenk

Stearns called his parents from his home in Los Altos on Saturday just as
he was about to leave for the airport.

"Bring me a pyramid," Charlotte Stanley said she told him.

"You got it. I love you a lot," she said her son replied.

Stearns also is survived by his sister, Lisa.

In their twilight years, Robert and Mary Rice frequently traveled across
the world to countries such as Japan, Australia, Russia, England, and had
competed in race-walking events.

Robert Rice recently celebrated his 85th birthday and was recovering from
surgery. But nothing could suppress his enthusiasm for seeing the world and
joining his wife of more than three decades for an early morning walk at
the Grossmont Shopping Center.

"That's what kept them going," said longtime friend Ernest Strzelecki, 71,
of Lemon Grove. "The traveling and the walking."

Strzelecki and his wife were planning to visit Spain with the Rices next
April. The couples regularly celebrated holidays together and attended the
Fletcher Hills Presbyterian Church in El Cajon.

The Rices had grown children from previous marriages who live outside San
Diego County and could not be reached yesterday.

Mary Rice, 79, had been a volunteer at the Alzheimer's Association respite
care program since 1991. The retired nurse took care of Alzheimer's
patients several hours a month in their homes. In 1996, she represented the
Alzheimer's Association by carrying the Olympic Torch for part of its
journey through San Diego as the torch made its way to Atlanta.

Copyright Union-Tribune Publishing Co.