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Team returns home safely after being involved in deadly crash

By Meredith Machen, mmachen@wcyb.com
Published On: Jun 18 2013 08:28:27 PM CDT
ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. -

A local baseball team is home safely after being involved in a fatal crash on a Florida highway.

We're told the Elizabethton Twins were on their way home from extended spring training in Fort Meyers, Florida when their bus collided with a car driving in the wrong direction.

As 33 players and staff members of the Elizabethton Twins pulled into Riverside Park Tuesday afternoon and unloaded for a new season, it was a different kind of reunion for host mom Mary Lewis.

"You didn't tell me!" Lewis said as she hugged one of the players.

That's because nearly the entire team was involved in a deadly crash on interstate 295 in Jacksonville, Florida.

"I'm very grateful to see everybody; all of them. I'm just glad for their safety," said Lewis.    

Pitching coach Henry Bonilla had a front row seat around 4:30 a.m. Tuesday when officials said a Honda Civic started driving on the interstate in the wrong direction.

Bonilla said it happened no more than five minutes after the bus got back on to the interstate after changing drivers.

"I still have the image in my head [of] the headlights being maybe 15 feet away; that they're right right in front of us," Bonilla said.

Bonilla told News 5 their driver, Pete, did the best he could to swerve out of the way.

"The next thing you know the guy was really booking it towards us. Pete just yells, 'Oh my God! Hold on guys,'" Bonilla described.

Moments later, Bonilla said the vehicles crashed.

Florida Highway Patrol officials said the driver of the Honda Civic was killed.

While no one on the bus was hurt, there was immediate concern at home.

"We regret the loss of life anytime that occurs but our guys, [it's] good that they're back here with us, and we look forward to Thursday night, our first game," said Mike Mains, the general manager of the Elizabethton Twins.

Bonilla said many of the players were shaken up after the accident, but he said the experience could end up helping them on the field.

"It's not the way you want to bond as a team, but it'll bond them together. You know, they were all watching out for each other [and] talking to each other," said Bonilla.

Like any mother, Mary Lewis will comfort all she can knowing her boys of summer are home safe and sound.

"They are my family," Lewis said lovingly.

Another fact we learned:

The team had to be transferred on to a new bus after the crash to make their way home. It was a minor inconvenience after what could have been an even costlier accident.