For members of Krista Clayton’s family, the thought that she will no longer be returning to Rhode Island each summer has been hard to accept.
Her younger sister, Bonnie Clayton, said Wednesday that she was dealing with the wave of emotions surrounding Krista’s death. But her family has been helped by the support they have received from those who knew her, and by memories of Krista’s upbeat, always-cheery personality.
Krista “was always optimistic, no matter the situation,” Bonnie said of her sister in a phone interview. “Even when she was having a hard time, you would never be able to tell because she was always smiling and looking to make others smile. We are trying to use her example, her spirit to help us keep it together.”
Krista and four others died on Christmas Eve when their small plane crashed while taking off from the Bartow Municipal Airport, about 50 miles east of Tampa. According to emergency officials, the twin-engine Cessna 340, piloted by 70-year-old John Shannon, a Lakeland lawyer, was heading for a short trip to Key West when it went down off the end of the runway.
Clayton, Shannon, his daughters Olivia Shannon, 24, Victoria Shannon Worthington, 27, and Worthington’s husband, Peter Worthington Jr., also 27, were all killed instantly, officials said.
Born in Westerly to Phil and Susan Clayton, Krista Clayton grew up in the Charlestown area and spent most of her life in Rhode Island. She was the third oldest of six children and is survived by Bonnie and Mary Grace Eilert, as well as their brothers Matt, Michael and Phil Clayton Jr.
A 2003 graduate of Chariho High School, Clayton completed a double major in secondary education and communications at the University of Rhode Island, graduating with honors in 2007.
Both during and after high school, she was active in numerous extracurricular activities, including mentoring and tutoring students, and coaching and competing in track and field, soccer and basketball. After graduating from URI, Clayton became a schoolteacher, and most recently taught gifted students at the Jewett Middle Academy Magnet School in Winter Haven, Fla.
“She had a passion for teaching. She was the type of teacher who knew every students’ name, even if they weren’t in her class,” Bonnie said.
Clayton moved to Florida a few years ago with her fiancé, Marc Rachlin, a real estate agent and Westerly native, and they had two daughters, 3-year-old Lila and 18-month old Lucy. They would return to Westerly for the summer, spending nearly three months here, much of the time enjoying days at Misquamicut and other local beaches.
Bonnie said that Krista and Marc were friends and neighbors of the Shannon family in Lakeland, and that they had flown in the plane on a number of trips, even bringing Lila into the air in recent months. Rachlin was home with the children at the time of the crash, family members said.
The cause of the crash is under investigation and Bonnie said the family wanted to let investigators have a chance to determine what happened. “As I understand it, there was about a 300-foot visibility at the time. It’s hard to understand why they were even attempting to fly,” Bonnie said.
The loss has hit others as well. In a lengthy post on Facebook, Sarah Powers, a neighbor of Krista’s, said that Krista had inspired those in the neighborhood, sharing coffee and engaging them in positive conversations. Powers recalled her last exchange, which she described as a quick request that turned into a 45 minute conversation. She described Krista as a down to earth woman with “such wisdom for her age.”
“I will miss my neighbor and friend,” Powers said. “We say it all the time, but it’s true. This life really is short. Be thankful today and every day for your family. And take a moment to say a prayer for the Clayton and Rachlin families.”
A memorial service for Clayton will be held Jan. 6 at the St. Paul Lutheran Church in Lakeland, followed by a celebration of life at the nearby Polk Museum of Art.
The family, with support from Rhode Island friends, is seeking assistance through the website Go Fund Me to help with travel arrangements for close friends and family hoping to attend the service. To donate, visit gofundme.com/kristaclayton.
For those unable to travel, Bonnie said she is also planning a memorial service in Westerly in mid-January. Details of the Westerly memorial service have not been completed.