The Monroe attorney, businessman and former city councilman died when his floatplane crashed into Banks Lake on Saturday.
The Grant County Sheriff's Office said he was attempting a takeoff from the central Washington lake near Steamboat Rock State Park when the plane went nose-down and sank. Nearby boaters dove into the water, released his seatbelt and brought him to a waiting ambulance on shore. Berger was pronounced dead a short time later. He was 60.
The cause of the crash is being investigated.
Donnetta Walser, a former Monroe mayor and city councilwoman who served for eight years alongside Berger, remembers him studying to become a pilot.
“He always wanted to fly. It was one of his dreams,” Walser said. “That was a real passion of his.”
The last time Walser talked to Berger, he was telling her about an airplane he was building. Berger died in the SeaRay aircraft he spent three years assembling.
This wasn't Berger's first plane accident.
“This was the second time he'd taken a tumble in a lake,” Walser said. “Last time, he was lucky.”
In October 2006, Berger crashed his Helio H-295 floatplane into Lake Isabel near Gold Bar. He had a partial loss of engine power on takeoff and the plane settled into the water and sank. Berger and his injured passenger had to swim to shore. Later, Berger had to retrieve his sunken aircraft.
He restored the plane and renamed it Isabel after the lake.
“We called that plane his mistress,” said Michele Cotterill, a paralegal at Berger's law firm.
Berger built and flew two planes during his time as a private pilot. As an attorney, he represented the Washington Sea Plane Pilots Association in a case that preserved their ability to access state waterways.
Berger wasn't a typical lawyer, Cotterill said.
“He was a very good man, very kind-hearted,” she said. “I don't think he ever said a bad word about anyone.”
Cotterill said Berger had a laid-back demeanor.
“I would have to reassure clients that he's a real bulldog in the courtroom,” she said.
Before Berger became an attorney at age 41, he ran Calico Press and Paperworks in Monroe. He later opened additional small businesses, including Calico Discount Mini-Storage and Livewire Technologies.
Berger continued in business as he studied for his law degree in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He graduated from Nova Southeastern University in 1995, completing a three-year program in two years. He then established the Law Offices of Kenneth A. Berger.
“He was a great attorney, top-notch,” Cotterill said.
Berger used his woodworking skills to turn a house into his law office.
“It was very impressive,” Walser said. “Ken was a very creative person.”
“It was almost insane,” Cotterill said. “No one man should have so much talent.”
He designed a room upstairs so employees' children could come to the office when necessary.
The practice operated a satellite office in Everett until the Hewitt Avenue building burned down last year.
Berger had five longtime employees at the firm, all working there for more than a decade.
“He was a friend as well as a boss,” Cotterill said. “We were all family.”
The Bergers hosted Cotterill's wedding at their home in 2007.
“They rolled out the red carpet for anyone who comes to stay with them,” she said. “You're family when you're there.”
Berger was active in his community. He was elected the Monroe City Council in 1989 and resigned in 2007.
Walser said Berger took public service very seriously. He was set in his ways but often raised interesting questions and concerns on the council.
“He brought up things most of us wouldn't have thought of,” she said. During planning for the North Kelsey development, she said, Berger sought to improve features, such as parking and lighting.
Berger also served on the Snohomish County Board of Health, earning a leadership award as the chairman in 2001. He was involved in the Monroe Lions Club.
“He had a lot of interests,” Walser said. “He certainly left his mark on Monroe.”
Berger grew up in Studio City, California. As a young man, he rode his bicycle across the country.
The avid outdoorsman summited Mount Rainier 29 times, said his sister, Judy Berger. He climbed a number of other peaks locally and abroad. He also enjoyed snow skiing and mushrooming.
Berger is survived by his wife, Deborah Berger, and two children, Jennifer, 19, and Mark, 23.
“He was an excellent husband, very dedicated to his family,” Cotterill said.
Funeral services are scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday at G.A.R. Cemetery in Snohomish. Sister Judy Berger, of Fairfax, California, said the family would appreciate donations to the Monroe Lions Club or Everett's Temple Beth Or in lieu of flowers.
A public memorial is being planned for late June. Cotterill said information will be posted about the service on Berger's Facebook page.
“He's going to be missed by a lot of people,” she said. “He definitely lived his life to the absolute fullest.”
Amy Nile: 425-339-3192; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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