CLEARWATER — The executive director of the Pepin Academies charter schools was killed Saturday and his 4-year-old daughter was critically hurt when the water scooter they were riding on collided with a boat, authorities said Sunday.
Craig Butz, 52, had worked with Pepin Academies, which runs charter schools for students with learning disabilities in Tampa, Riverview and New Port Richey, since 2013.
"The Pepin family is devastated by this tragic accident," Tom Pepin, president of the Pepin Distributing Company, said in a statement released through the school.
"Under his inspired leadership, Pepin Academies has grown to better the lives of students with learning-related disabilities," Pepin said. "Craig was a wonderful and infectious educator, whose passion for his staff and students was evident every day. He inspired countless students to realize their full potential and achieve their goals, both in and outside of the classroom."
Butz and his daughter Teagan Butz, 4, were riding on the Intracoastal Waterway near Clearwater Beach. Their watercraft crashed just before 5 p.m. in the waters off Bay Esplanade, a road on the eastern side of the Clearwater Beach barrier island.
They collided with a 34-foot center console boat operated by 67-year-old Thomas Carey of Clearwater, state officials said. Contacted Sunday evening, prominent Clearwater personal injury lawyer Thomas W. Carey said he had no comment when asked if he was involved in the crash.
Butz was taken to Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater and pronounced dead Saturday night, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Teagan Butz was flown to Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, where she remained in critical condition Sunday afternoon, state officials said.
"We are shocked and saddened to hear of the unexpected and tragic loss" of Craig Butz, Jeff Skowronek, chairman of the Pepin Academies' Hillsborough campuses, said in a statement.
"In my four years working with Dr. Butz, he advanced the mission of Pepin Academies tenfold," he said. "His wisdom and intelligence was matched by his passion and exuberance for the staff and students of our schools. He was a leader, a champion, and a friend. The pain of his loss, both professionally and personally, will be felt for an eternity."
Butz's first career was professional hockey. He played in the Western Hockey League and Major Junior Hockey League, then was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in 1983. He never got to play in an NHL game.
"It was a hard realization to come across, but I reached mine about the point where I played major junior and college hockey, and that was as high as I was going to be able to play," he told the Tampa Bay Times in 2013.
So he took a job teaching physical education to students with learning disabilities in Los Angeles. Butz earned a master's degree from California State University, Dominguez Hills and a doctorate in special education at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
"I'm probably the only guy to lead the Western Hockey League in penalty minutes two years in a row that has a Ph.D.," Butz told the Times just after joining Pepin.
Though an enforcer on the ice, he sought to establish a safe environment in school.
"Awesome from the minute we met him, just so passionate about this population," Crisha Scolaro, a founder of the charter schools, said at the time.
On Sunday, Tom Pepin said he was "heartbroken" and asked for prayers "that Teagan can make a full recovery."
"Craig was not only a respected and dedicated educator, but also a great father and friend," he said.
In addition to Teagan, Butz is survived by his wife Tatum Murphy and an adult son, as well as a large extended family in Canada.
Contact Langston Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @langstonitaylor.