Steven Carter Haskins, a UC Davis professor emeritus who helped found two veterinary medical specialities, died last week in a plane crash in eastern Arizona. He was 69.
Gila County Sheriff’s Office investigators said Thursday they are awaiting the results of a DNA test before officially identifying the body found inside Haskins’ two-seat Stoddard-Hamilton Glasair III experimental plane on the Fort Apache Reservation.
It took deputies about two hours to find the wreckage in a remote area of scrub brush at 5,000 to 6,000 feet of elevation after receiving a call Saturday afternoon from the U.S. Air Force Rescue Coordination Center at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida.
Detective Johnny Holmes said Haskins may have been headed from points east to Phoenix when an air traffic controller rerouted him toward Globe, Arizona, 87 miles to the east.
Why was unclear, but a Federal Aviation Administration investigation is underway.
“He may have become disoriented in a storm,” Holmes said.
The father of veterinary anesthesiology and a pioneer in emergency and critical care, Haskins authored more than 70 research papers and many book chapters and teaching publications.
He helped form the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society and the American College of Veterinary Emergency Critical Care, serving as president of both. He established one of the first intensive care residency programs.
“He really was one of the most sort of famous members of our profession. People all over the world were influenced by him,” said Kate Hopper, chief of the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital’s small-animal emergency medicine and critical care service.
After graduating from Washington State University in 1969 and completing a residency in New York, Haskins earned a master’s degree and completed an anesthesia residency in human medicine at the University of Minnesota in 1973.
He did so because he saw a need to formalize what veterinarians had been doing for their animal patients, Hopper said.
“Before that, (anesthesia) was just something veterinarians did, they used drugs and things, but nobody had specified which drugs and the safest way to do it,” Hopper said. “Back then, a lot of animals died under anesthesia. Now, it’s an unusual event because of that specialty.”
Haskins came to UCD in 1975. He went on to play a key role in emergency care as a speciality, formalizing everything from the taking of blood pressure to patient evaluation in critical care situations.
“Before that, animals were routinely put to sleep because their injuries were so severe it was believed care was unlikely to be successful,” Hopper said. “Steve was the first person who did all those things and then taught the world.”
Haskins received distinguished teaching awards at both UCD and the University of Minnesota. Teaching probably was his greatest skill, said Hopper, who first met Haskins in 1999. She did both her residency and Ph.D. under his guidance.
She called him “incredibly charismatic,” funny and warm — the kind of teacher who made sure everyone felt involved.
Anyone can learn this, Haskins would say, be brave.
“People who knew him for only a couple of weeks say he was the most influential person on their career,” Hopper said. “He was probably the most brilliant person I’ve ever met and the least arrogant about it.
“He was devastated if we lost a patient. He was truly committed to every animal. That was pretty inspirational to all of us.”
Haskins, who lived on a ranch between Davis and Winters, retired in 2006, but he continued to teach at UCD and around the world. He worked with UCD students as recently as December.
In 2007, Washington State University gave Haskins an alumni award for teaching and research. And last September, he was recognized for teaching at all 19 International Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Symposiums.
A pilot earlier in his life, Haskins set out to get a new license and buy a plane after retirement, Hopper said.
On his website, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, veterinarian Ira Zaslow wrote that he saw his friend Haskins only two weeks before his death. They made plans for Haskins, who had grown bored with retirement, to join the Florida practice and make regular visits.
Over dinner, they laughed about how, in the early 1970s, they would hold meetings of what was then the Veterinary Critical Care Society and have only six people turn up to see five speakers.
“Today, the organization boasts a membership of over 3,500, much to Steve’s credit,” Zaslow wrote.
Many times, he wrote, he told Haskins that his plane was unsafe and that he ought to get rid of it.
Haskins “would chuckle and remind me that he used to say the same to me during my years of sailing, when I sailed in angry seas,” wrote Zaslow, who called his friend “undefeatable.”
Haskins is survived by his wife, Nanci Bristowe; sisters, Cathy Haskins O’Donnell and Dayle Haskins Imperado; nephew, Kacie Haskins; great-niece, Ashton Haskins; and great-nephew, Grayson Haskins.
A memorial service has been scheduled for 5 p.m. Wednesday, June 18, at Gladys Valley Hall on the UCD campus.