Players haunted by flames

JOE BELANGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:02 AM ET

They say they don't feel like heroes.

They say they can't remember many of the details, and don't want to talk about some of the horror they witnessed.

What the three London football players will talk about and do remember is what they couldn't do -- save the life of Beth Smith, wife of pro golfer Chris Smith, after battling flames to pull her daughter, Abigail Elizabeth, 16, and son, Cameron, 12, from the burning SUV that crashed head-on into the bus carrying the London Silverbacks team Sunday.

"It bothers me that I couldn't help out more, that the fire was preventing me from saving the mother," said Alex Myros, 22, who plays several positions on the semi-professional team.

"It haunts me," Myros said. "I tried to get at the mom but the flames were too high."

The Steuben County Sheriff's Department in Indiana says the Smith children were still in critical condition in hospital with burns, fractures and internal injuries suffered in the noon-hour crash.

The team was travelling on Interstate 69 in northern Indiana, just south of the Michigan border, when the southbound SUV driven by the daughter blew a tire and slammed into the Greyhound bus.

Beth Smith died at the scene.

Chris Smith, 40, joined the PGA in 1995 and won the 2002 Buick Classic.

Also injured was Silverback owner and head coach Al Lazar, who was listed in fair condition in hospital and was coherent and eating yesterday. His wife, Beverly Grybas, who was also on the bus but not hurt, was at the hospital. The team returned to London late Sunday.

In all, 14 people were sent to hospital, two of them flown to a trauma centre in Indianapolis with more severe injuries, including Lazar.

The Silverbacks, who play in the North American Football League, are an affiliate of the Canadian Football League's Toronto Argonauts. The team was returning home after Saturday's 32-0 loss to the Indianapolis Tornados.

Myros, who plays a number of positions on the team, running back Nick Romain, 25, and wide receiver McCartney Sealey, 21, were among the first players out of the bus after the crash.

Romain climbed through a roof emergency exit, followed by Myros. Sealey went out a side window exit.

As Romain helped Cameron, Sealey was at the other door trying to grab Elizabeth.

"My face and arms felt like they were burning," said Sealey. "It was hot, but I just had to keep pulling at it and finally ripped the door open. I got her out a few feet and then it just got too hot and I was thinking the car might explode."

When Sealey got the door open, the rush of oxygen fueled the flames shortly before the gas tank exploded.

"It was brutal," said Sealey, who watched the SUV cross the road and hit the front of the bus, adding "it seemed like the front of the bus just sort of ripped open."

"They were in pain. It was terrible. She was screaming for us to help her mother and brother. But it was a surreal experience. There's a lot of things I can't remember. I was focused on my task."

Romain pulled the brother from the SUV less than 30 seconds before it exploded, blocking further efforts to rescue the mother.

"You wonder what else you could have done," said Romain.

"But I did what anybody else would have done. I was just happy to get the one person out. But it would have been nicer to get them all out."

Team captain Dave Martin, 34, and assistant coach Jason Kenemy didn't hesitate to describe the actions of the players as "heroic."

"They were true heroes - completely selfless in what they did," said Martin, who was knocked unconscious briefly. "The car was in flames and they were trying to get back in when it exploded. It was a surreal scene. There was a little dog running around in flames and people trying to save it."

Quickly on the scene were members of the National Guard, who'd just finished training nearby, followed closely by police and ambulances.

Myros held Elizabeth's hand and watched over her brother until paramedics arrived.

For Sealey, the crash was a stark reminder of the death of his younger brother Jeremy, 17, killed on a Michigan highway last Nov. 28, a passenger in a car driven by a drunk driver.

The tears suddenly began to flow as he sat at the side of the highway.

"It all came back and I just started to cry," said Sealey. "I understood the pain that was to come for this family."


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