ADA, Okla. (AP) — Chris Lane traveled from Australia to the United States for the love of the game — and the opportunity to secure a college degree while playing America's pastime. On the small campus of East Central University in Oklahoma, he made a home for himself in class and on the baseball field.
The 22-year-old Melbourne native, who hoped to work in real estate when he graduated next May, was fatally shot in the back last week while jogging along a tree-lined street near his girlfriend's home in Duncan. Three boys— ages 15, 16 and 17 — are charged with what prosecutors call a thrill killing, while those who knew Lane in the U.S. and Australia are trying to come to grips with the random attack.
"He achieved a lot for a 22-year-old," his father, Peter Lane, told reporters in Melbourne. "He gave up a lot to follow his dream."
A former coach who recruited Lane from Australia remembered him Wednesday as a well-rounded, charismatic guy who knew he wasn't the best baseball player in the world, but was passionate about the sport, worked hard and used his skills to pursue a college education.
"Chris was such a level-headed guy. He knew his limitations," said Matt Newgent, Lane's former coach at Redlands Community College. "He knew in his heart of hearts he wouldn't make the majors," Newgent said.
Lane started 14 games at catcher last year, and was entering his senior year. His coach, Dino Rosato, said in a statement that Lane was a joy to coach, and other teammates looked to him for advice and support. He hit .250 for the ECU Tigers last season, a figure that's OK but not a number that would attract scouts from professional clubs — but that's not what Lane was about.
"Chris was talented enough to play baseball, but he used that as a pathway to a collegiate education," Athletic Director Jeff Williams said on a tribute page on the school's website.
Lane had been playing baseball for the Essendon Baseball Club in Australia when Newgent recruited him to play for Redlands Community College in El Reno in 2009. A former principal at Lane's prep school in Australia said he could have played Australian football, but gave that up to pursue his passion for baseball.
A shoulder injury was frustrating for Lane, Newgent said, but Lane continued with rehab and never let it get him down. He played for the Cougars for two more years before transferring to East Central University in Ada in 2012. He met his girlfriend at Redlands — Sarah Harper, a collegiate golfer.
"They were really a good couple and fun to be around," Newgent said.
Harper transferred to Oklahoma Christian University in Edmond during Lane's last year at Redlands and the couple had a long-distance relationship, visiting each other on weekends. When Lane was looking to move from the community college to a four-year college to finish his degree, he wanted to stay in Oklahoma "because Sarah was in Oklahoma," Newgent said.
He added that many people thought the couple would eventually get married.
Lane and Harper had recently returned from a trip to Australia, and Lane was visiting Harper and her parents in Duncan, a south-central Oklahoma city of about 24,000. He went for a jog Friday afternoon and was shot once in the back. He died along a road on Duncan's well-to-do north side. Prosecutors said the three teens, from the grittier part of town, chose Lane at random and that one of the boys "thinks it's all a joke."
On Tuesday, Chancey Allen Luna, 16, and James Francis Edwards, Jr., 15, of Duncan, were charged with first-degree murder. Under Oklahoma law they will be tried as adults. Michael Dewayne Jones, 17, of Duncan, was charged with using a vehicle in the discharge of a weapon and with accessory to first-degree murder after the fact. He is considered a youthful offender but will be tried in adult court.
Police have said the 17-year-old told authorities the boys were "bored" and decided to kill someone for the "fun of it."
Autopsy results released Wednesday say Lane died from a "penetrating gunshot wound to back."
On the East Central University campus, fellow athletes remembered Lane as someone who always had a smile on his face, and was easygoing.
Lane's baseball teammates told The Associated Press they were not allowed to speak with the media. But in a tribute article on the school's website, teammate Sam Malchar said Lane had a competitive spirit, and was sure to be a success in business.
"He wanted to get into real estate in the states, which I always told him would be a good idea because, with his accent, he could sell a boat in the desert," Malchar said.
He also said Lane was someone who could always be counted on, and had a zest for life.
"Not a lot of people would move half way around the world to get an education and build a better life but he did," Malchar said.
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