London team in fiery crash

CHIP MARTIN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:03 AM ET

A fiery crash in northern Indiana involving a bus carrying the London Silverbacks football team claimed the life of a motorist and sent 14 others to hospital yesterday.

Members of the semi-professional football team were travelling north on Interstate 69 just south of the Michigan border shortly before noon when a southbound sport-utility vehicle blew a tire and slammed head-on into the Greyhound bus.

The driver of the smaller vehicle was killed, while two of its occupants were pulled to safety by members of the London team, which is in the North American Football League. In all, 14 persons were sent to hospital, two of them airlifted to a trauma centre in Indianapolis with more severe injuries, including team owner Al Lazar, who was reported in critical but stable condition.

T.R. Hagerty of the Angola, Ind., fire department said about half those sent to hospital were there for several hours.

Reports last night indicated all of the injured players were on their way home.

Hagerty confirmed firefighters learned Silverback players helped rescue two injured passengers in the other vehicle.

Bonnie Pierotti, whose husband, Mike, is an offensive lineman for the team, said the players who pitched in that way "were pretty heroic."

She was relieved that her husband was not among the injured and said it appeared they were asleep at the time. Most of the injured, she said she learned from her husband, were "walking around" despite their injuries, "even the driver," Jim Bereston.

Pierotti said the team does plenty of travelling, with eight road games -- including Saturday's 32-0 loss to the Indianapolis Tornados -- and only three at home this season.

The team's assistant coach, Jason Kenemy, said he expects team owner Lazar to be all right.

In all, the bus had 38 onboard, including players, coaches, cheerleaders and team employees.

The team played last year's league champions Indianapolis Tornados on Saturday. Their next game is scheduled for next weekend in Detroit.

A new bus was being dispatched by Greyhound from Windsor and most of the team was hoping to be collected about 7 p.m. yesterday.

Members of St. Anthony's Roman Catholic Church gave team members a place to rest and something to eat as they waited for a replacement bus. And they told reporters the players were still too shaken for interviews.

The bus that was damaged bore Western Mustang colours, one of two Greyhound has in its fleet wrapped in photos and branding for the University of Western Ontario athletics department. No Mustang student-athletes were believed involved in the crash, university officials said.

Defensive coach Dennis Angyal called long-time bus driver Bereston the "hero of the day" for keeping the bus upright in the crash and helping passengers get out.

Assistant coach Kenemy praised St. Anthony's for taking in the team.

"The Catholic church here has been tremendous," he said. "They've fed us, they've taken care of us, been there for us with some counselling."

The Silverbacks are an affiliate of the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League.


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