Michael Connell, a leading Republican Internet consultant, was killed Friday night after the small plane he was piloting crashed in Ohio.

Connell, 45, was attempting to land but went down near a vacant house some two miles short of the Akron-Canton airport runway. Connell was the only person inside his Piper Saratoga. Nobody on the ground was injured.

Connell was the founder and president of New Media Enterprises, an Ohio-based consulting firm, and GovTech Solutions. He was also a partner at Connell Donatelli Inc., a new media firm he headed along with Rebecca Donatelli, who was the lead internet consultant to Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign.

"He was a real innovator in our field," says Brett Sciotto, president of Ohio-based American Strategies. "It's certainly a sad day for those of us who knew him well and had the pleasure of working with him."

Connell sat on the board of the American Association of Political Consultants, an organization headed by Akron native Angela McMillan. She remembers Connell as a fixture in their Ohio community and at their local church.

"He was so much more than just an innovative Internet guy," McMillan says. "He had a very rich personal life, and he was well-loved and will be missed by the people in this community."

In 2000 and 2004 Connell oversaw President George W. Bush's online outreach. During the 2002 and 2004 cycles he was also the lead online consultant for several GOP campaigns, including those of Sens. Gordon Smith, Lamar Alexander and John Thune. New Media Enterprises has also done extensive work for the Republican National Committee.

This past November Connell was deposed in a lawsuit alleging voting fraud and election irregularities in Ohio in connection with software he had developed. Connell steadfastly denied any wrongdoing.

Connell is survived by his wife and four children.