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Coach Willie Blair killed in car-train crash

Funeral for William S. Blair, age 36, at 2:00 Saturday, March 13, 1999 at Goodwin Memorial Chapel. Memorials to the family, please.

Willie Blair and his wife Sarah were hit by a train at the Ash Road crossing on Hoosier Highway, just south of Bluffton, near Travisville at 6:10 in the evening on March 9.

Willie did not survive the crash. Sarah is in Lutheran Hospital in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Sarah needed the Good Samaritan Helicopter but it couldn't fly because of the weather. She was taken by ambulance. She is in critical condition in intensive care with severe head injuries, broken ribs, a bruised lung, a possible spinal injury and a broken ankle and possibly other injuries, we learn from the Bluffton News-Banner.

Willie Blair had been in a wheelchair since he was in a crash at the age of 18, when he was an up-and-coming boxer. Nevertheless, he became head coach of the Wells County Boxing Team and coach for a team in the Wells County Teen Baseball League. He and wife Sarah King Blair were foster parents. If you have memories of Willie, please send a letter to the family. Their address is 0221 West, 900 South, Keystone IN 46759.

The Blair's son Jeff Blair is a star athlete at Southern Wells High School. He is a senior this year. Emphasizing sportsmanship and true boxing skill, Willie Blair started his son Jeff on an amateur career to the highest levels ever attained by a Wells County boxer, a Golden Gloves championship. Jeff won numerous other boxing titles. Jeff is currently a basketball and baseball star at Southern Wells, regarded as a Major League baseball prospect from his performance at baseball camps. He is considered a U.S. prospect for the coming Olympics.

Weeks later: I called Judy's house for an update.  A relative said Sarah is recovered and runs her own day-care business!  Her father has passed but her mother is still at the Sunrise Way address.  Sarah can drive a car and has made a remarkable recovery.   Thanks to all who contacted her with their cards and prayers. 

Older news: April 1, 1999: Sarah Blair has improved enough to be released to the home of her sister-in-law. You can send her a card at:
Sarah Blair
c/o Judy Sonnigsen
0634 East St Rd 124
Bluffton IN 46714

Sarah is only 37 years old. I hope that will help her recover, to be that young. Son Jeff reports that his mom is able to walk, talk and eat normally, although her back, legs and neck feel a little weak.

Jeff especially noted in the Bluffton News-Banner that the family appreciates all your prayers and encouragement.

Previous Update     Lutheran Hospital reports that Sarah Blair's condition has now been upgraded to "serious but stable" with no other details given.

Previous Update: Sarah Blair's condition is now "critical but stable" which is an upgrade. There are no other details to report.

A little editorial here

There was a news story this past week about a student driving to Ball State University. While she was stopped at a crossing, her car was hit from behind by a pickup truck. It was slammed forward and caught under a train and dragged four miles. As she was dragged down the tracks, this student was able to get to her cellular phone and call her mother for help, and call 911, although she was almost scared to death. She couldn't believe that they could hear her over the noise of the car metal tearing apart. Two boys from her former high school were nearby and also were aware of the accident and went for help.

The problem of train crossings seems to be getting much worse here in northeastern Indiana; we must all take extra care. Don't even stop your car real close to those tracks. Don't use tracks as a shortcut or playground. I've lost two people I know from pedestrian-train accidents, one of them my uncle, one a child whose mom I drove to the hospital as the daughter was being born. Trains no longer hold any romance for me.

However, we do have news of another Wells County death involving organ donation. Please read about Tony Sills below, on this page.

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Tony Sills Killed in Hit-and-Run

Everyone in Wells County was watching the NBAA basketball tournament on Thursday, March 11, 1999. One spectator watching with friends in Liberty center was Tony Sills of Bluffton. Tony, age 22, enjoyed walking, so he headed back to Bluffton on foot after dark. About half a mile up 300 West, near Councilman Peter Cole's home, a car came up behind him and smashed into him. It drove off.

Tony was dressed in jeans and a black jacket. It had reflective tape on it, his sister told me. He was three to four feet out from the edge of the road, walking in the road to stay out of the slush and snow. I don't know how long Tony lay injured in the roadway before he was discovered. The 911 call came in at 7:29 p.m. Residents reported seeing a vehicle going at a good clip eastward on the road about the time of the accident. There was part of a Dodge Ram truck grill by the victim.

Tony was airlifted to Fort Wayne where his injuries appeared obviously too serious for his life to continue. He died Friday morning (March 12) in Parkview hospital. He family, in the utmost expression of caring and generosity, wanted to donate all his organs and body parts to the organ donor organizations. To me, this exemplifies our Wells County spirit of helping one another. 
Update:
Unfortunately, because of the length of time after his death, the hospital was unable to make the organs available for transplant.  I was told this about a year after the tragedy.

Around 7:30 p.m., Brent Huffman, age 34, came to the Sheriff's department. Brent Huffman too had been watching basketball with (a different set of friends from Tony's) friends in Liberty center, sharing good times, snacks and beer. He reported that he had been bent over retrieving a pack of cigarettes he had dropped on the truck floor. He thought he had hit a mailbox at the same location where Tony was discovered. The Bluffton News-Banner had an editorial commending Brent for coming in. (But I think of course he would have been easily traced from the grill of his truck.) And he did come in while his blood alcohol reading was testable. He is charged with 3 Class C felonies. Judge Hanselman set bond at $30,000 and declined the appeal to reduce it to $5,000. (The bond was later reduced.) Jury trial is set for January 10, 2000. The court will not accept any plea agreement after July 15, 1999.

The obituary in the Bluffton News-Banner noted that Tony Joe Sills, age 22, was born in Huntington County, son of David L. Sills of Bluffton and Beulah Blocker Sills now of Jeffersonville, Ohio. He is a 1995 graduate of Bluffton High School where he was active in wrestling and football, and played roller hockey at the former Roush Park during the summer.

Tony had been employed at MacDonalds in Fort Wayne and at Peyton's Northern Distribution center in Bluffton. Survivors include his parents, two brothers, Terry and Tim, a sister Tonya, and his grandparents Edwin C. and Rose Rohde of Bluffton.

The calling hours were held at Thoma, Rich and Chaney Funeral Home. Funeral services were held Tuesday, March 16 at Sonlight Wesleyan Church in Bluffton with the Reverend Stan Hoover officiating.

Memorials to the Indiana Organ Procurement Organization, please. Tony's family wanted to donate his organs because they knew he would have wanted them to, in the hope that someone else would be helped.


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Links Out

Lydia Murray received second liver transplant
Southern Wells Alumni page
The index of Nostalgia, pages about Bluffton
Music links
The Opine magazine with columns, free graphics, etc.
Here's Otto's cover. Otto is short for Our Tentative Times, the parent of this family of magazines.


Send all additions and corrections for Our Tentative Times to me, Sandra Weinhardt,   at editor@tentativetimes.net