When they talked about Pelle Lindbergh yesterday, they talked about speed. They talked about his love for fast cars, and about their rides in those cars. They talked about how much he enjoyed those rides.
"This is life," is what one of them quoted the Flyers' goaltender as saying, after one harrowing experience in the passenger seat.
This is life.
This is the ultimate irony.
Lindbergh was declared brain-dead yesterday. He slammed his bright red sports car into a concrete wall early yesterday morning, and is being kept alive by a respirator.
The accident occurred in front of an elementary school in Somerdale, Camden County, N.J. It seriously injured the two passengers who rode with Lindbergh in the front seat of his Porsche 930. It left behind shards of glass in an intersection that police said has been the scene of numerous accidents over the years. It left behind scrapes of red paint on the white concrete wall for the curious and the ghoulish to examine.
"The combination of speed and alcohol was probably the reason he hit it," said Charles Pope, a Somerdale detective. Before the blood alcohol reading was announced this morning, a man who'd seen Lindbergh minutes before the crash said the star goaltender appeared sober then.
Lindbergh, 26, was given virtually no hope of recovery by Dr. Edward Viner, the Flyers' team physician. His condition was listed as "very critical" this morning. Doctors said Lindbergh's heart had "stabilized" after a period of problems last night.
Viner said the pessimistic prognosis was based on massive injuries to Lindbergh's brain compounded by the fact that Lindbergh went "at least 15 minutes" without breathing. It took that long for rescuers to pry Lindbergh out of the mangled car and rush him to John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital- Stratford Division in Stratford, N.J.
Shocked teammates, friends and family gathered at the hospital yesterday to wait for the good news that never arrived. Lindbergh's fiancee, Kerstin Pietzsch, was there. So was Lindbergh's mother, Anna Lisa. She has been visiting from her home in Sweden, where her son is considered a national hero. All await the arrival of Lindbergh's father, expected today.
"The difficult decision, obviously, will be how long to go with this," Viner said at a somber press conference yesterday afternoon, indicating that the decision whether or not to remove Lindbergh from the respirator would not be made for "at least 48 hours."
The two passengers - Edward T. Parvin, 28, of Mount Ephraim, N.J., and Kathy McNeal, 22, of Ridley Park, Delaware County - were pinned with Lindbergh in the front seat of the turbo-charged Porsche. Parvin was in critical condition at Cooper Hospital-University Medical Center in Camden this morning with a fractured skull. McNeal was in stable condition at Kennedy, after surgery to repair a broken pelvis, ruptured spleen and liver.
Tests of Lindbergh's blood-alcohol level would not be completed until Tuesday, Pope said. He added that police had not attempted to estimate the car's speed at impact, but that the damage indicated a speed higher than the 25 mph limit at the intersection.
A witness whom Pope refused to identify told police, "I think it skidded and ran into the wall."
Minutes before the accident, which police say occurred at 5:41 a.m., Lindbergh was seen leaving an after-hours club that is a part of The Coliseum, the Flyers' training center in Voorhees, N.J. The Coliseum is 1.1 miles away from the accident scene, at the intersection of Somerdale Road and Ogg Avenue.
Police said that Lindbergh arrived at the bar at 2:40 a.m. - about four hours after the Flyers defeated the Boston Bruins for their 10th consecutive victory. Lindbergh did not play in the game.
According to Charles Cascio, owner of The Coliseum, internal receipts indicate that Lindbergh approached one of the five bars in the club and ordered a beer. Cascio said there is another receipt for a round of seven drinks bought by Lindbergh. According to a bartender whom Cascio refused to identify, Lindbergh did not take one of those seven drinks.
Last call is given at The Coliseum at 4:30, and no drinks are served after 4:45, Cascio said. However, patrons are given time to finish their drinks and finish socializing. There might have been 100 people left when Lindbergh headed for the door at about 5:30, according to Rick Zurzolo, an instructor at The Coliseum's health club who was in the bar.
Zurzolo said he shook hands with Lindbergh at the door.
"I've known Pelle for three years," Zurzolo said. "I've had experience as a nightclub manager for six years. In no way did he seem drunk to me."
Zurzolo said that Lindbergh headed out the door alone, but as part of the exiting crowd. If that is the case, the decision to give Parvin and McNeal a ride probably was made in the parking lot.
The car is a small one, with two bucket seats in the front. Lindbergh and his two passengers were wedged in without seat belts, police said.
The Coliseum is located several hundred feet off of Somerdale Road. To travel to the accident scene, one would make a right turn onto Somerdale and drive 1.1 miles to the intersection of Somerdale and Ogg, passing the White Horse Pike about a half-mile along the way.
It is not a simple intersection, because Somerdale Road bears off to the right. The curve in the road is severe enough that most cars used their turn signals while moving through the intersection yesterday afternoon. Just two weeks ago, county road crews finished widening the road, reducing the angle of the curve somewhat.
"We've had a lot of problems there in the rain," Pope said, adding that no one ever had been killed at the intersection. There was no rain yesterday morning.
At dusk yesterday, a series of street lights went on. None in the area were burned out. Headlights shone brightly off the white paint on the concrete wall in front of Somerdale School No. 1.
The school sits on the far side of the intersection, on a piece of land that is more than 3 feet higher than the surrounding streets. The concrete wall separates the school grounds from the sidewalk. In the middle of the wall is a set of concrete steps.
If a car traveled in a straight line rather than negotiating the curve, it would cross into the opposing lane, jump the 4-inch curb, and ram into the wall. That's what the red Porsche 930 did.
The car slammed into a concrete abutment between the steps and the wall. The impact of the crash blew the windshield about 40 feet, Pope said, and pushed the front left side of the car into the passenger compartment.
"It was a mangled mess," Pope said, adding that the driver's side of the car was "squished."
There are tire marks on the road and sidewalk leading up to the abutment, but Pope said he was unsure whether the marks were as a result of braking or skidding sideways.
"It doesn't appear he really hit the brake until he was about 10 feet from the point of impact," Pope said. "It's just amazing that somebody with his kind of reflexes ends up this way."
Inez Thomas, who lives across Somerdale Avenue from the school, said the sound of the crash woke her from a sound sleep.
"I jumped up because my son, he's 19, he was out with my car and I was afraid it was him," she said. "It was a loud bang and then it was making a loud whining noise . . . From the way it looked, that car must have been going at least 50 (mph)."
After looking out the window and seeing that it was not her son that crashed, Thomas said she went back to sleep.
Pope said that rescue workers quickly pried open the door on the passenger side, freeing Parvin, a friend of several Flyers and the son of a South Jersey real estate agent who has helped some of the players buy houses in the area. McNeal, who was sitting in the middle, was freed next.
According to her mother, Marie, Kathy McNeal is a hostess at Trump's Castle Casino-Hotel in Atlantic City who lives with her parents in Ridley Park. She said her daughter worked Saturday night, and she was unsure how the young woman joined Lindbergh at the bar.
"They're just good friends and usually after their good games they all get together," Mrs. McNeal said. She said her daughter had known Lindbergh for one or two years, but that their relationship was strictly casual.
"She's just friends with them," Mrs. McNeal said.
After Parvin and McNeal were removed from the car, rescuers had more difficulty getting Lindbergh out, police said. The reason was the extensive damage done to the car's left side.
"He was basically twisted up like a pretzel," Pope said. "He was more or less all mangled up under the steering wheel."
After Lindbergh had been carefully maneuvered out of the car, his heart stopped, Pope said. Paramedics immediately began CPR, Pope said, and it took less than two minutes for the ambulance to get him to the hospital.
Pope said medics originally planned to take Lindbergh to Cooper Hospital- University Medical Center in Camden, which has a trauma unit specially equipped to deal with such injuries. But he said paramedics decided to go to Kennedy, which is closer, after Lindbergh's heart stopped.
And it was to Kennedy that the focus of attention would shift. It was there that the grief-stricken gathered for word on Lindbergh's condition.
Players arrived through the morning, and most were there by 10 a.m. They joined Lindbergh's fiancee, mother and brother-in-law in a room off the intensive care unit.
"I want him to live, but I want him to be a person," Pietzsch said.
The first press briefing was at about 10:30 a.m., the second at around noon. The severity of the injuries was explained. The hip fracture, the jaw fracture, the two fractured bones in the lower left leg - all were incidental. The most serious injury was that to the brain stem. It is the part of the brain that controls automatic body functions, like breathing.
The crash, Dr. Viner said, caused "a rattling around of the brain" inside the skull. Other areas of the brain were severely swollen, Viner said, and the damage was compounded because Lindbergh didn't breathe for those 15 minutes.
"I'm sure he didn't breathe from the moment of impact until he got to the hospital," Viner said.
It was not until the noon press conference that Viner used the three, fateful words: "effectively brain-dead."
"He is on a respirator, being supported fully, but the chance of recovery is really nil," Viner said.
"The pessimism that we all feel stems from the fact that if there is no improvement in the basic neurological function this many hours after the original trauma, then it is not likely - in fact, it is considered essentially impossible - for him to get better," Viner said.
Only at a later press conference was Viner asked about the possibility that Lindbergh had been drinking before the accident. The answer was in the affirmative, with an explanation.
"He had been drinking," Viner said. "I really feel very ambivalent about what to say about this. Pelle Lindbergh is - I'm not sure of the right verb to use here - was a very fine human being. We've never had any trouble with drugs on the Flyers. Nobody's a drunk on the Flyers. They're all very good people. They're like kids from Kansas, except most of them are from Canada . . .
"I'm very disturbed to give any concept that the Flyers do a lot of carousing. Ordinarily, they don't. Obviously, he (Lindbergh) had something to drink. I'm not sure how much. I don't know if it had a role in the accident.
"If there's anything good to come out of this," Viner said, "it's that kids will see what can happen to them when they get behind the wheel after having a drink or two."
Keith Allen, the Flyers' executive vice president, walked into a hallway during the vigil and said, "I can't believe it. " The rest of the organization was similarly stunned. General manager Bobby Clarke and coach Mike Keenan gave the team the word on Lindbergh's condition at a meeting back at The Colisuem.
"I'm not thinking about the team right now," owner Ed Snider said. "The team is my last consideration."
Clarke was in Boston, ready to leave his hotel at 7 a.m. to catch an 8:30 flight to Philadelphia when he received his phone call. He arrived at the hospital at about 10 a.m.
"I knew it was bad," he said, "but I didn't know it was that bad until I got here."
Later, at The Coliseum, Clarke also said, "I know it sounds morose, but we need a goalie."