Earl Luce toiled for years building a plane by hand in a small workshop on the second floor of a building he owned in downtown Brockport, New York, where he made his living renting furniture to SUNY students. “It was a very low-budget operation,” said fellow pilot Peter Lockner, who was once given a tour of the miniature factory. Modeled on an original made just before World War II by the great air racer Steve Wittman, Luce finally finished his green-and-yellow W-5 Buttercup in 2002. He was proud of the prop plane, taking his wife out on leaf-peeping trips. He even sold blueprints of his design on his website for $310.
On Sunday, two days before his 70th birthday, Luce attended a pancake breakfast at the Gaines Valley Airport, which is not much more than a grass landing strip. With a fellow pilot, he took off a few hours later, but around 5:45 p.m., the Buttercup’s wings “detached from the fuselage,” as the Orleans County sheriff’s office would later put it in a statement. The shell hurtled at least 3,000 feet before crashing in an orchard in an accident now being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board.
When the details of the horrific crash were made public, it attracted the attention of local news and recreational pilots. But on Wednesday, the crash received greater attention after authorities identified the other pilot as Dr. Morris Wortman, a 72-year-old former OB/GYN.
In the late 1990s, Wortman began receiving suspicious powders in the mail after he defended his practice of performing abortions in a Newsweek op-ed following the murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian, who was shot at his home outside Buffalo in 1998 by an anti-abortion militant. For a while, he was a notable figure among abortion activists, appearing in a sympathetic light in magazines and in a documentary highlighting the challenges of practicing abortion in America. But in 2021, Morgan Hellquist, the daughter of a former patient, sued Wortman, claiming that he used his own sperm to impregnate her mother in 1984 — when he had claimed that he was using the sperm of a medical student for the fertility treatments.
Since the rise of genealogy websites and at-home DNA tests, there have been more than 20 cases in which doctors have been accused of fertility fraud. But as the lawsuit states, Wortman’s alleged conduct “shocks the conscience.” In 2012, after the birth of her first child, Hellquist became a patient of Wortman, inspired by the work that allowed her parents to conceive after her father was paralyzed after being hit by a drunk driver. For the next nine years, Wortman was her gynecologist — performing annual pelvic and breast exams and talking with her about her sex drive. The lawsuit states that while conducting a vaginal ultrasound in April 2021, Wortman asked Hellquist to take off her mask because she looked prettier without one. He also brought his wife into the room to meet her and see if there was any resemblance between them. “You’re really a good kid,” he allegedly said after the procedure. “Such a good kid.”
After the suspicious visit, a DNA genealogy test found that she had at least nine half-siblings. A test comparing Hellquist’s DNA to that of Wortman’s daughter from his first marriage confirmed the matter, according to the suit alleging medical malpractice, lack of informed consent, battery, fraud, negligence, and infliction of emotional distress. “He knew the whole time who he was and I didn’t,” Hellquist said on Good Morning America last year. “He took away that choice for me.” (Hellquist did not respond to a request for comment.)
As of May of last year, Wortman had not responded to the complaint and as of February of last year, he was still practicing in Rochester. Since her story gained national attention, Hellquist has worked with state lawmakers to make Wortman’s alleged conduct illegal. The bill introduced in the State Senate last year would create a path for victims to file civil suits for fertility fraud; make fertility fraud grounds for physician misconduct; and designate the act of using sperm without explicit consent as aggravated sexual abuse. But as of publication, it remains in committee.