James Trefz, a graduate of Hauppauge High School, moved to Florida three years ago looking for opportunity. In recent months, he'd begun a venture that would allow him to share his love of flying with disadvantaged kids.
That dream was extinguished Thursday when Trefz's 1974 Beech C23 Sundowner lost power and crashed just after takeoff from Winter Haven Municipal Airport bound for Lakeland, according to Florida media accounts.
Trefz, 45, a father of two, died at the scene. His passenger, George Azize, died later in a hospital, according to media reports.
Shortly after the plane went down, a white terrier appeared at the crash site. It was Trefz's dog Zulu, who had survived.
Friends and family said Trefz was a careful and experienced pilot and that the crash is under investigation. Flying was just one of many passions, they said, that allowed Trefz to satisfy a hunger for adventure.
After high school, where he played hockey, Trefz worked with Disc Graphics in Hauppauge, a printing and packaging company run by his stepfather. He excelled at sales and spent 17 years there.
His free time, friends and family said, was all about speed. He loved barefoot water skiing, motorcycle racing, snowmobiling and extreme skiing.
"There was no such thing as a hill that couldn't be skied, according to Jimmy," said his stepfather, Don Sinkin, 61, of St. James. "And he was more than happy to prove it to you at a moment's notice."
Steve Frey, a family friend and business partner of Sinkin's who was once Trefz's boss, said he was "larger than life" and would sometimes "put 25 hours into a 24-hour day." After a weekend of sports, showing up at work on Mondays in crutches wasn't uncommon.
"That's the way Jimmy lived," said Frey, 56, of Nissequogue. "There was always a story."
Trefz hoped to develop an upscale RV park in Florida and leave his children comfortable, but the recession quashed those ambitions, said his mother, Beverly Sinkin, 63, of St. James.
During the past two or three months, she said, Trefz had begun to focus on creating a nonprofit in Florida that would help disadvantaged kids learn about flying.
In a recent conversation, Trefz told his mother he was happy.
"He said, 'This is never going to make me wealthy, but I love what I do,' " Beverly Sinkin said. "And we all kind of feel that he died doing what he loved."
In addition to Don and Beverly Sinkin, Trefz is survived by a son, James, 8, from a marriage to Astrid Vansteen of Smithtown; a daughter Allison, 2, with his current partner, Erika Wilke of Winter Haven; father and stepmother Larry and Cathy Trefz of Stuart, Fla.; brother David Trefz, 45, of Port St. Lucie, and sister, Andrea Sinkin, 31, of New York City.
A wake will take place at Branch Funeral Home, 190 E. Main St., Smithtown, Tuesday, 7 to 9 p.m. and Wednesday, 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. The funeral will be at 10 a.m. Thursday in Three Village Church, 322 Route 25A, East Setauket.