Hundreds mourn UR staffers killed in hot-balloon accident

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) — Hundreds of mourners packed into the University of Richmond’s Cannon Memorial Chapel Wednesday to remember two beloved women’s basketball team staffers killed in a tragic hot-air balloon accident last weekend.

Ginny Doyle was the associate head coach for the women’s basketball team.

“Coach Doyle, it’s going to be a weird thing–but I’m going to miss her sarcasm a lot,” Leah Ching said. “Again, it’s just someone I could talk to; I could be with and feel comfortable around.”

Natalie Lewis, the school’s director of basketball operations, also died in the accident.

“She was always one of those people, when she laughed it was contagious,” remembered Ching. “You couldn’t avoid smiling around Natalie.”

The women were killed Friday, along with pilot Daniel Kirk, when the hot-air balloon they were riding in struck a power line and caught fire at Meadow Event Park in Doswell.

But it is not the tragic circumstances of how they died, but how they lived that Leah Ching is remembered.

“The way they impacted my life; they touched so many other lives as well,” Ching said.

During Wednesday’s public memorial,  there was a candlelight vigil, prayer and even a few laughs.

Dick Torrant, Doyle’s one-time basketball coach was also in attendance, remembering her winning smile and winning spirit.

“Ginny had something like 68 consecutive free throws to lead the nations women in free throws,” Torrant said.

Every seat inside was filled, the aisles of the chapel were lined and mourners spilled out of the church to honor the lives of the two women cut short.

“I’m as devastated as anyone else,” Torrant said. “It’s tragic.”

A formal memorial service is planned for later in the fall, once the University of Richmond students return.

In addition to Wednesday’s public memorial, a fund has been established by the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival for the families of the three victims.

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