ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (WJHL) — Milligan University officials and students spoke at a press conference Friday morning in response to an incident in York County, Virginia that killed a 20-year-old student-athlete.
Cross country and track runner Eli Cramer was on a practice run with three other teammates and an assistant coach Thursday evening in preparation for weekend races at the 56th Annual Colonial Relays at William & Mary.
On that run, a driver, who was allegedly under the influence, hit three teammates before fleeing the scene and later crashing into the median. That driver has since been arrested by Virginia State Police.
Cramer, a sophomore and business administration major from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, died from his injuries at Williamsburg Sentara Hospital.
The two-time Cross Country All-American, two-time All-AAC and four-time national qualifier in track helped take the team to Milligan’s first NAIA national championship. University officials spoke at a media briefing Friday on Cramer’s death, noting that his accomplishments led to many team victories.
“He made an unmistakable impact on our program and the team culture in the two years he’s been with us,” said Athletic Director Christian Pope. “It’s no coincidence that Milligan’s first-ever NAIA national championship this last fall came as a result of Eli being a strong contributor…He will be sorely missed.”
Team co-captain Ethan Pfister spoke at Friday morning’s press conference, revealing he spent three years as Cramer’s friend before his life was cut short.
“You know, I tried to gather words that I thought would adequately describe Cramer, but I think just explaining the story of how I met Cramer and what he meant to this program is enough,” Pfister said. “Cramer came on a visit when he was a junior in high school, and everyone loved him immediately. He was supposed to stay here for a day and a half, but he stayed for three. Everyone loved him off the bat…As far as grades and program fit go, he’s the best recruit we’ve ever had.”
Milligan President Dr. Bill Greer said that anyone who knew Cramer was aware of his energy and sportsmanship.
“For a little while yesterday, I was able to relive the joy that I felt when I first heard that they had won,” Greer said. “Then, only a few hours later, [we] came to learn of this tragic event…and we learned Eli was dead. How quickly our emotions ebbed and flowed yesterday and how quickly things that had seemed so important, suddenly were not.
“Eli is remembered as a joyous person, a young man who worked hard and played hard.”
That energy was evident at practices and races, according to the team’s co-captain.
“Cramer is a man that everyone should strive to be like,” Pfister said. “He affected communities, he was influential, his laughter was contagious and he loved two things more than anything: to run and to laugh.”
According to Milligan’s Lee Harrison, 21-year-old Alex Mortimer, a current student in the school’s Master of Business Administration program, received injuries to his shoulders, hips, and a broken leg along with bruising to his lungs, a possible concussion but no serious brain injuries. As of late Friday morning, Mortimer underwent yet another surgery for a possible bone chip.
“He is stable, from what we know, and is expected to make a full recovery,” said Harrison.
21-year-old Eli Baldy, the third student-athlete who was injured, is a mechanical engineering major from Knoxville, Tennessee. He was released from the hospital Thursday night.
“I’ve spoken with Coach Lane multiple times in the last 14 hours, and his focus is on his team,” said Pope. “We’ve made arrangements for them to leave Williamsburg by charter at noon. His focus at this time is taking care of his team.”
Scheduled athletic events at the university on Friday have been postponed, according to Pope, as the Milligan community continues to grieve.