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Liberty mourns loss of former soccer player, Marine killed in crash in Australia

Maj. Tobin ‘Toby’ Lewis (’08) was the executive officer of the United States Marine Corps’ Medium Tiltrotor (VMM) Squadron 363.

Liberty University aviation graduate Maj. Tobin “Toby” Lewis (’08) was one of three service members killed Sunday when their Osprey MV-22B crashed on Melville Island, 50 miles off the coast of Darwin in northern Australia, during a training operation.

Lewis, 37, of Jefferson, Colo., earned his B.S. in Aviation: Military before being commissioned to the United States Marine Corps. He is survived by his wife, Meredith (’08), and their three daughters, Lydia, 6; Nora, 4; and Eliana, 2.

“The Liberty University family is saddened to learn of the sudden loss of fellow alumnus and Marine Corps pilot Maj. Toby Lewis, who was killed in service to our country,” said Liberty President Dr. Dondi Costin. “We are constantly reminded of the brevity and frailty of life, even as we look to the author and giver of life, Jesus Christ, for all comfort and joy. Please join me in praying for his wife, Meredith, and their three precious daughters.”

According to the United States Naval Institute press release, Lewis, the executive officer of Marine Medium Tiltrotor (VMM) Squadron 363, was killed along with Cpl. Spencer Collart, 21, and Capt. Eleanor LeBeau, 29. The tilt-rotor aircraft was carrying 23 passengers when it crashed during the operation that included 2,500 military personnel from the U.S., Australia, Indonesia, and other nations. All three of those killed were assigned to “the Red Lions” of the squadron, which was forward deployed as part of Marine Rotational Force – Darwin.

Lewis (right) with friends at his May 2008 Commencement

Steven Brinly, associate dean of the School of Aeronautics, was Lewis’ former flight instructor at Liberty and remembers Lewis as a patriotic American who passionately followed Christ.

“Toby sought the counsel of the Liberty University School of Aeronautics faculty as he desired to serve God and his country,” Brinly said. “Toby was always willing to overcome any obstacle he faced. I am incredibly proud of the legacy he leaves for Christ, his family, and Liberty University.”

Brinly is friends with Lewis’ sister Charissa and her family, who had just visited with Brinly when they traveled through Lynchburg on Saturday, the day before the crash.

Lewis (left) co-pilots with friend and former classmate Dan Capoccia (’08) during their undergraduate training.

“She told us about Toby’s passion for flying and his excitement about being selected to fly the V-22 Osprey in several airshows,” Brinly said. “She also shared Toby’s commitment to his country and stories of how he selflessly served his fellow Marines in the line of duty.”

Lewis previously served in Pensacola and Jacksonville, Fla., Corpus Christi, Texas, and Okinawa, Japan. He had two Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals, the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, the Navy Unit Commendation, the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and four Sea Service Deployment Ribbons.

Lewis played on the Flames Soccer team from 2004-07.

While at Liberty, Lewis played on the Flames Men’s Soccer team under former Head Coach Jeff Alder from 2004-07. He was a member of the 2004 Big South Conference All-Freshman team and scored 19 goals in his time with the Flames.

“Toby was the ultimate teammate, competitor, and representative of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Liberty University, and our men’s soccer program,” said Alder, assistant AD/director of major gifts for Liberty Athletics.

He noted that Lewis was one of the Flames’ leading scorers in Fall 2007 before breaking his leg in a game two weeks before the Big South Conference tournament, which the Flames won for the first time in program history.

“Toby still found a way to inspire his teammates during our journey to the championship,” Alder said. “Immediately after surgery, he was back on the sidelines on crutches helping our coaching staff work with the forwards, encouraging players, and hopping up and down on one leg with each goal and win. One of my fondest memories of Toby was when I sat on the team bench after we beat Radford for the conference title and watched Toby use his crutches to try to get onto the field to join the celebration.”

Lewis (top center) poses with Liberty’s Men’s Soccer team, including Head Coach Jeff Alder (third from left in front row).

Brinly also recalled Lewis’s perseverance through that injury.

“I have fond memories of flying with Toby as he completed his instrument rating shortly after recovering from a broken leg,” Brinly said.

Lewis made a surprise visit to Liberty’s campus in 2019 when the soccer team honored Alder after he retired following his 18th season as head coach.

“Toby will always be a part of the Alder family and the Liberty Soccer family,” Alder said. “He was an inspiration to all of us and died doing what he was called to do: serve others. He will be missed daily, but how great it must have been to hear his Savior say, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant.’”

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