August 22, 2013

Australian killed in Oklahoma was pursuing passion for baseball

By Kristi Eaton / The Associated Press

ADA, Okla. — Chris Lane loved baseball, but knew it wouldn't make him a star. Instead, the Australian youth with a quirky passion for America's pastime came to the U.S. for a college education, found a girlfriend and died while training for what was likely his final year on the diamond.

Chris Lane

The Associated Press / Essendon Baseball Club

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Jeff Williams, director of athletics at East Central University, prepares to talk about Chris Lane during an interview at the baseball field at East Central University in Ada, Okla., on Wednesday. Lane attended the school on a baseball scholarship.

The Associated Press

"He achieved at lot for a 22-year-old," his father, Peter Lane, told reporters in Melbourne. "He gave up a lot to follow his dream."

Lane hoped to work in real estate after graduating from East Central University next May but was shot in the back while jogging along a tree-lined street near his girlfriend's home in Duncan last week. Three boys – ages 15, 16 and 17 – have been charged in what prosecutors called a thrill killing.

The Redlands Community College coach who brought Lane to America remembered him Wednesday as a player with heart and passion. Matt Newgent said this wasn't necessarily enough to translate to a professional baseball career, but that Lane's talent secured him a college education.

"Chris was such a level-headed guy. He knew his limitations," said Newgent. "He knew in his heart of hearts he wouldn't make the majors."

Lane, who was about to become a senior, started 14 games at catcher last season and he hit .250.

Lane had been playing baseball for the Essendon Baseball Club in Australia when Newgent recruited him. A former principal at Lane's prep school in Melbourne said Thursday that Lane could have played Australian Rules football, but that he gave that up to pursue baseball – a minor sport in Australia.

"He was involved in other sports. He was a very good AFL (Australian Football League) footballer and could have gone on, I'm sure, in that area. He was a member of our athletics team, it was a champion team. He was very good that way and worked hard at his studies," Frank FitzGerald said.

At Redlands, Lane met Sarah Harper, a collegiate golfer from Duncan. Friends expected them to marry after graduation.

"They were really a good couple and fun to be around," Newgent said.

Harper transferred to Oklahoma Christian University in Edmond during Lane's last year at Redlands.

When Lane was looking to move from the community college to a four-year college to finish his degree, he wanted to stay in Oklahoma "because Sarah was in Oklahoma," Newgent said.

Lane and Harper had recently returned from a trip to Australia, and Lane was visiting Harper and her parents in Duncan, a south-central Oklahoma city of about 24,000. Lane was on a training run Friday when three teens chose him at random and shot him for "the fun of it," police said.

Prosecutors charged Chancey Allen Luna, 16, and James Francis Edwards, Jr., 15, of Duncan, with first-degree murder. Under Oklahoma law they will be tried as adults. Michael Dewayne Jones, 17, of Duncan, was charged with using a vehicle in the discharge of a weapon and with accessory to first-degree murder after the fact. He is considered a youthful offender but will be tried in adult court.

Police have said the 17-year-old told authorities the boys were "bored" when they targeted Lane.

Autopsy results released Wednesday say Lane died from a "penetrating gunshot wound to back."

An online fund set up to help get Lane's body back to Australia topped $89,400 on Thursday. A private memorial service for Lane was scheduled for Saturday at Oklahoma Christian University in Edmond.

On the East Central University campus, Lane's baseball teammates told The Associated Press they were not allowed to speak with the media. But in a tribute article on the school's website, teammate Sam Malchar said Lane had a competitive spirit, and was sure to be a success in business.

"He wanted to get into real estate in the states, which I always told him would be a good idea because, with his accent, he could sell a boat in the desert," Malchar said.

Players said it was likely Lane would have been the ECU Tigers' captain in 2014. On his old teams, he was already showing leadership qualities.

"I was immediately struck by the maturity of the kid at that age," said David Tierney, who coached Lane's Under-18 team at Victoria in 2008. "Immediately the other coaches and I made him the captain of the team just because of the way he carried himself and because the other guys in the team seemed to grow a couple of inches when he was around."

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