BY MATT TROUTMAN firstname.lastname@example.org
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — GRAYLING — Gunner Metzer arrived to applause from a crowd of hundreds gathered at the Grayling Country Club.
Then silence briefly fell as he left his van by wheelchair.
The crowd assembled Thursday for a vigil for Grayling High School golf team victims of a devastating two-vehicle collision Monday in Kalkaska County. They were traveling to a golf tournament at the Grand Traverse Resort & Spa.
Team member Louis Menard, 18, head coach, Jason Potter, 31, and a passenger in the other vehicle, Cassandra Stapleton, 27, of Kalkaska, were all fatally injured. The driver of the other vehicle, Rhonda Mitchell, 45, and four members of the Grayling High School golf team remain hospitalized in Munson Medical Center.
Metzer, 16, suffered a broken collarbone, fractured vertebrae and a concussion. He was the first member of the golf team to be released from the hospital.
Applause returned and followed Metzer as his wheelchair moved through the crowd at the vigil. Rachel Greenway organized the event because she knew most of the crash victims since childhood.
”It kind of hit home,” she said of the crash.
The crash hit the Grayling High School senior class hard, especially with the loss of Menard just two weeks before graduation. Before the vigil, seniors grouped together close to the makeshift stage area.
Senior Maddie Benardo, 18, grew up with Menard and remembers him as the biggest University of Michigan fan she knew. She said his truck is still parked in the Grayling High School parking lot, decorated with flowers and University of Michigan flair.
Her brother Andrew Benardo, 15, said he last saw Menard on the morning of the accident.
”The day he passed away, we walked into school with him,” he said. “He put his arm around my sister and talked about his golf meet.”
Kelly Gallagher, pastor at Grayling Free Methodist Church, said the tragedy brought the community together in way she hadn’t seen before.
”We’ve even seen things start to turn to hope,” she said before the vigil. “We’re here to mourn as well as lift up those that are still fighting and fight with them.”
The vigil gave family, friends and community members a chance to speak, share their memories and show support. Balloons and lanterns were launched for the victims.
Family members gave updates on the golf team members still in the hospital. Dallas Johnson, 15, could be going home as soon as today. Mason Krey, 17, received surgery Thursday for a broken jaw. Jacob Hinkle, 16, has just begun to respond to his family. Tyler Summers, 16, remains in a medically induced coma.
Members of the Grayling golf team announced they would continue the rest of the season in honor of the victims.
People lined up to shake Metzer’s hand after the ceremony and wish him well.
”I’m pleased to see everybody out here,” he said, and then he choked back tears.