East Dallas lawyer Steve DeWolf dies in vintage plane crash

Steve DeWolf’s acrobatic aviation is just a part of what makes him such an interesting neighbor. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)
Steve DeWolf’s passion for aviation is just a part of what makes him such an interesting neighbor. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

UPDATE: Forest Hills neighbor Steve DeWolf died April 25, 2018, in a plane crash, according to his wife, Tammy DeWolf. The civil lawyer, wind energy pioneer and author was flying his T-6 Texan, one of two World War 2-era planes that he owned. He and passenger Charles Skoda died when the plane crashed at Naval Air Station Kingsville shortly after takeoff Wednesday at about 12:30 p.m., according to the Caller Times. The story says the plane caught fire shortly after takeoff. In addition to his wife, DeWolf is survived by his son, Jake DeWolf. Memorial details are pending. This article about DeWolf appears in the May issue of the Lakewood/East Dallas Advocate, which went to press before news of his death.

When Steve DeWolf isn’t jogging through his Forest Hills neighborhood, he’s probably flying over it in one of his vintage planes.

The civil lawyer, author and wind energy pioneer owns a PT-17 Stearman that was built in 1943 and a T-6 Texan built in 1942. His father was a colonel in the Air Force, and DeWolf attended the United States Naval Academy, intent on flying carrier-based jets. But his vision wasn’t good enough. After graduation, he went to law school and earned a pilot’s license in 1985. After a girlfriend broke up with him in 1991, he says he thought, “F it, I’m just going to spend $80,000 and go buy an old open cockpit biplane.”

That was the Stearman. “I’ve loved it ever since,” he says.

DeWolf says he tries to fly his planes at least once a week. His home base is the Dallas Executive Airport, formerly Redbird Airport. “My dad said that you have to fly a lot to be safe. I tell my son, Jake, the same thing.”

Why planes from that era? “It goes back to my dad,” DeWolf says. “It’s very pure flying. It’s black or white. You can either fly the numbers or you can’t. Can you fly it in a certain direction, can you keep it stable, can you land well? In law, there’s gray and nuances.”

How does he feel when he’s up there? “Like a million bucks,” he says.

DeWolf has had close calls, including seeing lightning below him while flying over Seguin from the Rio Grande Valley and encountering fog so dense he was forced to fly according to the air traffic controller’s signals. Years ago, in the Stearman, an oil line broke. DeWolf was close to Lancaster and tried to land. People were saying, “You’re streaming oil.” He landed and had the shakes. “Some tall, thin guy who was in charge of the airport came out and said, ‘Well, I’d let you use the restroom, but I bet you done already used it.’

“Fortunately, I hadn’t.”

DeWolf’s law office on the 14th floor of a North Central Expressway building feels like working in the clouds. He sits at a long, cluttered table in a room surrounded by windows. The office is decorated with framed illustrations of him in court, a photo of him in his plane flying over opening day of the Rangers in 2014, a 1942 Saturday Evening Post cover of his father in uniform and his son’s Lego wind farm project.

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Rocks collected from his travels hold down pages of law cases and maps of his wind farm projects. “A rock for everything I have to do,” he says. “I like rocks. Every time I go someplace, I get them.”

In the early 2000s, he was sitting on a beach and penning an editorial for The Dallas Morning News about the need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. He thought about an in-law in Minnesota who was a progressive farmer researching windmills.

“I thought, ‘Texas… we have a lot of land, we ought to be able to do that.’ I had no idea what I was doing.” He went to TXU Energy and said, “I’d like to build a wind farm.” He asked his wife, Tammy, to give him $25,000 to learn the business. She was OK with it, so he went to West Texas A&M University and studied with the experts. He’s been investing in wind farms ever since.

He also wrote a book. “Dead Stick” is about a Texas civil trial lawyer, “a gritty street-wise” character investigating the death of his brother in Iraq. The main character is Jake, named after DeWolf’s son, and the book’s cover photo is DeWolf in his plane. “Dead Stick” is published by Stephen F. Austin University Press. A producer in Los Angeles has optioned the book to be a movie, and a writer in New York is working on the screenplay.

DeWolf is at work on a sequel. In addition, he writes “The Moderate Minute” column for the Mount Vernon Optic Herald in Franklin County, where he owns a lake house. He’s also on the board of the Cavanaugh Flight Museum.

In the meantime, son Jake is studying at Oklahoma State University, learning to be a commercial airline pilot.

“Flying is not without dangers, and flying these old planes? It’s more dangerous,” DeWolf says. “But crossing the street is dangerous. I do my best to make sure that the planes are well maintained. Like I told Jake, ‘You don’t fly into bad weather. You try and make good judgments.’ At some point, 10 to 15 years from now, I may say, ‘I think I’ve been flying long enough.”


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