Apr 25, 2006

Lacrosse accident: one year later

by Matthew Hegarty, Sports Reporter
On March 14, 2005, the Liberty University men’s lacrosse team was making good time on U.S. Highway 45 near Prichard, Ala., on their way to Biloxi, Miss., for a scheduled game.

Then, about 1:00 p.m. Central Time, tragedy struck when then-coach John Westfall had to make a sudden stop in his team van – but the second team van behind him did not stop. Westfall’s vehicle was thrust into the intersection and collided with a tractor-trailer, throwing several students from the van.

This week, as they remembered the accident 13 months later, several team members attested to the providence of God throughout the entire ordeal. Jake Redman, one of the players in the second van who helped lift the first van off the trapped players, recalled the supernatural nature of the accident and its influence on the players.

“The fact that (the team members who were severely injured) stayed alive during the incident has had a very positive impact on their spiritual life,” Redman said.

Redman gave a very positive evaluation of Jason Lombardozzi, who had suffered a compound fracture in his lower leg–about five inches above his ankle–as a result of the accident. Redman said that not only did Lombardozzi come back this season, but he was a utility player for the team, excelling on both attack and defense.

Lombardozzi himself attested that he is, in some ways, still healing from his injury. He also described some of the emotion present at the crash site.

“People were praying for each other…It was pretty cool to see how it all happened,” Lombardozzi said.

Lombardozzi also gave an update on Chad Gurney, the goalie for the team at the time, who suffered the gravest injuries, including a severed leg.

He last talked to Gurney’s mother about a month ago. She said that Gurney, who had to undergo several surgeries, had a successful bone transplant from his hip to his leg and was walking, and even regained some feeling in the fingers of his injured hand. He is taking classes locally back in his home state of Maine and has no immediate plans to return to Liberty.

Another player who was severely injured, Ryan “Kansas” Leaming, is also doing very well, according to reports from team members. Leaming became a Resident Assistant for the 2005-2006 school year, but he had to defer a semester to undergo therapy for his hip.

Ryan Patrie, who is a current co-captain of the team, was also in the second van. He too recalled God’s divine intervention in the accident.

“With the exception of [Gurney and Leaming], the rest of the guys were able to come back and play, which is nothing short of a miracle,” Patrie said.

He admitted that the accident drew the team members together and forced them to rely on each other and that the unity was evident throughout the rest of the season.Dr. Tom Metallo, professor at the Helms School of Government and this season’s coach, also touched on that unity.

“I think the one thing that unified them the most was the injury to [Gurney],” Metallo said.

However, this season was different.

“A lot of people who were involved with the accident on the team either left the team or moved on,” Lombardozzi said.

He attributed this dispersion to different team members that graduated or transferred to different schools or were still recuperating from their injuries. That being the case, the team had over half its spots replaced by new recruits this season. Lombardozzi acknowledged that this year’s team tried to distance itself from the accident to some extent.

Patrie mentioned that the biggest thing to come out of the accident was that God was glorified, citing the team’s chance to witness to Mobile, Ala., television crews following the accident.

“If it’s going to take an accident like that for God to be glorified, then let it be,” Patrie said.

Contact Matthew Hegarty at mjhegarty@liberty.edu.

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