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Court records raise questions of pilot’s qualifications to fly before deadly crash

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - Court records, audio and emails from a bitter child support case of the daughter of Joe Lara raise questions about his qualifications to earn a medical certificate which determines if a pilot is healthy enough to fly.

The emails show the mother of Lara’s daughter repeatedly requested that Lara not pilot their young daughter in planes, citing his drug abuse and length of time he had taken off from flying.

Lara, his wife, and five other members of the Remnant Fellowship Church in Brentwood died May 29 when the Cessna he was piloting crashed into Percy Priest Lake shortly after takeoff from Smyrna Airport.

A preliminary report on the plane crash from the NTSB states that Lara did have an active second-class medical certificate, which shows that a pilot is healthy enough to fly that specific aircraft.

However, on April 30, 2021, in sworn testimony in the child support case, Lara testified that his second-class medical certificate had expired.

“My class, my second class medical expired,” he said.

After explaining that he retained his third-class medical license, which allowed him to fly private planes, he was then asked by an attorney if any medical reason prevented him from keeping his second class.

“No. I just found that I would never get hired as a commercial pilot, given my age and the amount of hours,” Lara said. “It requires thousands and thousands of hours to be considered for a professional hire.”

But court records show in 2015 Lara responded to a series of questions in which he was asked to state the medical condition for which his California medical marijuana card was issued to treat.

Lara responded with “insomnia.”

Lara would go on to earn a medical certificate in 2017 and, according to his church, obtained another in 2019.

According to the FAA’s guide for aviation medical examiners, it states, “Medical conditions that chronically interfere with sleep are disqualifying regardless of whether a sleep aid is used or not.”

As for medical marijuana use by pilots, the FAA also writes that aviation medical examiners should not issue airmen medical certificates to applicants who are using classes of medication, including medical marijuana.

News4 Investigates requested Lara’s entire flight history, including documents he provided to earn medical certificates, to see if any of this was disclosed to the FAA, but was told by the FAA that it could only be provided through a Freedom of Information Act request.

News4 Investigates has filed that FOIA and will report back when the information is received.

A spokesman for the NTSB said they could not comment pending the ongoing investigation.

In a deposition from 2015, Lara is asked the last time he smoked marijuana.

“I testified to that. I believe it was April or May of ’15,” Lara responded, according to the transcript.

Lara also testified that he no longer smokes marijuana.

However, in a series of emails obtained by News4 Investigates between Lara and the mother of his daughter, Natasha Pavlovich, show Pavlovich raising concert that Lara’s drug use continued.

In an email dated June 18, 2019, Lara responds to Pavlovich in writing, “Nice try trying to create other piece of evidence against me. The truth of the matter is, I was finishing up my multi-engine commercial pilot exam with a FAA examiner and couldn’t call at that time.”

It is unclear what piece of evidence he was referring to or what was occurring to prompt him to write the email.

A month later, on July 8, 2019, Pavlovich writes, “If you are flying her in a private aircraft, I do not agree with that mode of transportation for our daughter as I have legitimate concerns for safety. Please accept this notice as a formal demand from transporting (their daughter) with this type of private air situation.”

Lara responds by saying that he is not obligated to provide Pavlovich with that information and asks for her to show her in their parenting plan where it limits how he can travel with their daughter.

On Nov. 19, 2019, Pavlovich wrote to the Guardian ad Litem that their daughter found two pipes in Lara’s bedroom.

That email also referenced a 2018 incident where Pavlovich and her daughter sat by a man who “reeked of marijuana,” and the girl said, “He smells like Daddy.”

Pavlovich also wrote that she had addressed her concerns of Lara’s “continued drug use” with Brentwood Police, but without a warrant or cause, they couldn’t do anything.

She also wrote that, “If I complain to the FAA, it will take a long time.”

Pavlovich adds that she will, “perhaps file an emergency motion with the court to restrict Father from piloting/flying child.”

Stacy Neisler, the Guardian ad Litem, responded that Pavlovich would have to file a motion with the court to request that Lara not pilot the child.

News4 Investigates reached out to Remnant Church inquiring about the certificate they provided and Lara’s testimony that it had expired, and a spokesperson emailed only saying that Lara was not flying commercially.

News4 Investigates called and emailed Russ Morgan, Lara’s attorney in the child support case, who declined comment citing the confidentiality of the juvenile court proceeding. is now with you on the go! Get the latest news updates and video, 4WARN weather forecast, weather radar, special investigative reports, sports headlines and much more from News4 Nashville.

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Copyright 2020 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

Chief Investigative Reporter

Jeremy Finley is the chief investigator for News4 Investigates. His reporting has resulted in criminal convictions, legislative hearings before the U.S. Congress, and the payout of more than a million dollars to scam victims.

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