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Police still investigating fatal crash that killed popular veteran Navy pilot

John A. Hefti, 58, a former F-14 fighter pilot and squadron commander. (U.S. Navy photo/The Virginian-Pilot/TNS)
November 15, 2021

Virginia Beach Police are still investigating a fatal crash on Great Neck Road last month that killed a well-liked youth baseball coach and former Navy fighter pilot.

Retired Navy Capt. John A. Hefti was an F-14 fighter pilot and squadron commander who in more recent years has held a civilian post as director of fleet and joint training for the U.S. Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk.

He coached at the Great Neck Baseball League for the past six years, known for being a fun coach. He also coached youth basketball.

“He never wanted to be in the dugout or on the bench,” the family’s obituary said. “Coach Hefti instead insisted on always being on the field or court to provide instruction, development of skills and to build on players’ confidence.”

Hefti, 58, of Virginia Beach, was driving home from a youth practice about 6:45 p.m. Oct. 4, heading south on North Great Neck Road.

Police said a northbound 2013 Ford F-150 pickup crossed the center line and veered into oncoming traffic, including Hefti’s 2010 Honda CR-V.

Linda Kuehn, a spokeswoman for Virginia Beach Police, said police are still waiting for lab results from the “adult male” driving the pickup.

That process can take months, she said.

“Patience is the key here,” Kuehn said. “It is still absolutely being actively investigated, and as soon as we have any updates to the case, we will absolutely share it.”

Following military honors Friday at Naval Air Station Oceana, Hefti’s funeral Mass took place Saturday morning at Star of the Sea Catholic Church in Virginia Beach.

Meanwhile, a scholarship fund in Hefti’s name has so far raised more than $129,000.

His family established the “Captain John “Bag” Hefti Memorial Scholarship Fund” on GoFundMe to “recognize student athletes who have fostered positive team relationships, earned recognition for academic success, and worked to give back to their community through selfless acts of kindness or charitable volunteer work.”

About 425 people had donated as of Friday, including 65 who put in at least $500. Several put in $5,000, $10,000, or more.

“John loved life,” the obituary said. “He was all about family and enjoyed spending time with his wife and sons, whether it was boating, throwing the football and baseball, going to the beach, or just watching sunsets.”

Hefti was known for his impersonations and quick wit, the obit said. He enjoyed hosting cookouts and bonfires “while socializing about current events,” and sometimes “breaking out the karaoke machine.”

“He was the most humble man and never boasted about his many accomplishments,” the obituary said.

Hefti was born at the Camp LeJeune Marine Corps base in North Carolina, and grew up largely in Prince William County, where he was a high school quarterback, shortstop and point guard.

He attended the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, where he played quarterback on the JV football team and graduated with an engineering degree in 1985.

Hefti then flew F-14s under the call sign “Bag,” including with the “Grim Reapers” at Oceana.

He was selected for “Top Gun” school and deployed in Operation Desert Storm. He commanded fighter squadrons during Operation Iraqi Freedom and other operations, and served as commanding officer for a tactical reserve air wing in Texas.

Hefti later served as the “readiness officer” for the Navy’s Atlantic Fighter Wing, the “diversity officer” for the Chief of Naval Personnel and the deputy chief of staff for training at Fleet Forces Command, in Norfolk.

He retired from the Navy as a captain in 2013, spending three years as a “leadership coach” for the oil and gas industry.

But Hefti returned to the Navy on the civilian side in 2016, first as a senior aviation program manager and then to senior civilian posts overseeing fleet and joint training for the Fleet Forces Command.

He’s survived by his wife, Patricia, and his sons, Jay, 25, Adam, 23, and Shane, 9. He also leaves behind his parents, a sister, other relatives and friends, and “sailors and naval aviators whose lives he profoundly impacted.”

Those who commented on the GoFundMe page said the shock of the loss was immense.

Paula Hoppe, a former classmate, called Hefti “always beautiful, smart, kind, good, immeasurably blessed and humble.”

“I want John’s family and dear friends to know that this loss ripples across time and space and country,” she wrote.

“Coach Hefti was one of the kindest, most thoughtful guys you could ever meet,” a woman named Ginny Pontifex added. “He touched so many lives, and just being around him made you want to be a better person.”

Hefti “was truly one of the very finest people that I have ever met,” a man named William Meade wrote, calling him “unsurpassed as a man, a boss, a leader and a friend.”

“An immense pleasure to have served with and an absolute joy to have known John Hefti — gifted fighter pilot, heartfelt leader, and loving family man!” a man named Joseph Aucoin said. “Godspeed, Bag!”

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