SALT LAKE CITY — Friends of a Utah woman who died in a helicopter crash in Tennessee are speaking out after they learned the pilot was ordered not to fly by a federal judge a week prior.
The U.S. Attorney’s office confirmed to KSL that Matthew Jones should not have been in Tennessee, let alone flying any aircraft. That’s because he’s facing a federal prosecution in Utah for mail fraud and falsely claiming he was a certified flight instructor.
Juli Wagner was the passenger who died in the Dec. 29 crash in Sevier County, Tennessee.
Her friend, Gina Blake, wants justice.
“Juli had a really big, beautiful heart and she loved people,” Blake said.
She was a devoted mother to her son, a huge Tom Brady Patriots fan, and a savvy businesswoman, who Blake says recently started dating Matthew Jones.
“She sent me pictures of him and said he was a pilot who flew planes and helicopters.”
Days before leaving for Tennessee with Jones, Wagner told Blake they were planning on opening a helicopter tour business.
“She said she was excited to go up in the sky with him.”
Tennessee authorities say the helicopter Jones was flying took off from the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport and went down eight minutes later. Weather conditions were overcast, drizzly and foggy.
“After she died, this new information started coming out about his background,” Blake said.
Blake says she felt like something was off about Jones, but never imagined he would put Wagner in danger.
Instead of celebrating what would have been Juli Wagner’s 36th birthday last week, Blake will honor her memory.
“I’m really angry,” she said. “I feel like he’s a con-man who conned his way into Juli’s life.
Jones is recovering from his injuries at a Tennessee hospital.
The U.S. Attorney’s office says it will depend on his health status as to when he will be brought back to Utah to face prosecution.