When an alleged drunk driver plowed into the bus carrying a St. Ignatius College Prep hockey team through northern Indiana in November, a promising season came to a grinding halt.
But on Sunday, the junior varsity squad had a triumphant return to the ice, scoring a 5-0 victory against Aurora’s Marmion Academy.
Among those packing the stands at Fifth Third Arena on the Near West Side were three of the four players who remained sidelined, dozens of first responders and a Good Samaritan who sprang into action after the crash.
“We’re just hoping for continued healing and recovery for them,” Spencer Montgomery, St. Ignatius’ hockey director, said of the players. “The good news is we’re able to field a team and get back to play, but we’re not done with the incident.”
On the night of Nov. 12, a speeding semi-truck driver swerved across lanes of U.S. Route 30 in Warsaw, Indiana, before running through a red light, crashing into the team bus and knocking it on its side, according to court documents. Witnesses said it didn’t appear the truck’s driver, Victor Santos, tried to slow down or avoid the bus.
Santos, 58, of Brooklyn, New York, faces multiple felony counts of causing serious bodily injury when operating a vehicle while intoxicated and criminal recklessness with a deadly weapon. Court documents show he’s a registered sex offender in New York, and he was convicted of rape in 1999.
Sixteen St. Ignatius junior varsity hockey players have filed a lawsuit in connection with the crash, naming Santos and the trucking companies involved as defendants.
The hockey team had been competing in a tournament at Culver Military Academy and was returning to its hotel from dinner. At least 16 players were hurt, three of them critically.
The road to recovery — both physically and emotionally — hasn’t been easy, but most of the players are back to playing shape, Montgomery said. The team is now in line to make the playoffs and has a series of makeup games scheduled this month.
“In a lot of ways, they really needed to just get back on the ice,” Montgomery said of the players who have returned. “There’s something about hockey for the 90 minutes you’re on the ice, everything can kind of disappear and you just get to play a game.”
John Chandler, president of St. Ignatius, said the response to the crash was “a testimony to the care of this community,” crediting both those who responded and the outpouring of support locally. “There’s a lot of lessons that our broader community has learned: the fragility of life [and] not knowing what’s going to happen necessarily in the next moment,” Chandler added.
Through it all, Montgomery said the players have stood by each other as they grappled with the fallout from the shared traumatic experience.
“In the dark moments, you have to look for the light,” he said. “And this group has bonded together and leaned on each other. And then the opportunity to come back and compete, and get back to the game of hockey, is a real blessing.”