Lake Highlands High School graduate Cleve Whitener, 70, died in a plane crash Thursday morning, KTXS ABC in Abilene reports. At the time of the crash, Whitener was traveling from Abilene Regional Airport, near his home, to his ranch in Harlingen, according to Whitener’s LHHS classmate Steve Phillips. A church friend told KTXS the trip was a hunting excursion.
The pilot reported electrical problems shortly after takeoff and attempted to return the twin-engine Beechcraft BE20 Super King Air to the airport before it crashed about 6 a.m. in a field. Gary Morrison, 65, was traveling with Whitener along with the pilot, not yet identified. There were no survivors. The Coleman County Sheriff’s Office, DPS, FAA and NTSB are all investigating.
Whitener, who graduated from LHHS in 1968, was a giant in the construction industry. He founded Lauren Engineers and Constructors in 1984, with design-and-build projects throughout the Southeast and Southwest. He relocated the company from Atlanta to Abilene in 1994 and became active in the community there.
Though he earned a degree in mechanical engineering from SMU, Whitener’s start in the business came from his early days working construction on a new project not far from home – Lake Highlands High School. In a podcast interview by Conversations Around the Corner in 2018, Whitener talked about lucking into that job when another employee didn’t show up, and he reminisced about other LH memories. (Note: the transcription calls his hometown “Lake Collins.”) Whitener discussed moving to Lake Highlands in the third grade with his parents, two brothers and two sisters, and sharing a bedroom with his brothers and his grandfather after his grandmother passed away. He also recalled his days playing football at SMU, working at Camp Kanakuk and taking courses at Dallas Theological Seminary.
You may listen to that recording here.