Naval Academy shaken by 6 deaths lives of promise fondly remembered DEATHS IN THE FAMILY

December 07, 1993|By Sandy Banisky and Tom Bowman | Sandy Banisky and Tom Bowman,Staff Writers

Had America been at war, the number of deaths that the Naval Academy has endured in the last week still would have left Annapolis shaken: three alumni dead in a California shooting last Wednesday, three midshipmen killed in a car crash on a rain-swept road Sunday.

Yesterday, mourning midshipmen walked to classes through the leafless academy Yard. Some staff and faculty were saying you'd have to go back to the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, which claimed the lives of four former midshipmen on the same day, or to the battles of Vietnam to find a toll as awful.

"In more than 45 years of association with the academy, this is the most tragic period I've ever seen, except for war," said Retired Vice Adm. William P. Lawrence, a former academy superintendent.

The week began as midshipmen gathered in a cold downpour Sunday for a memorial service for former Navy quarterback Lt. Alton Grizzard, 24, of Bowie. He and Ensign Kerryn O'Neill were killed by Ensign George P. Smith, a 1992 academy graduate, who then committed suicide.

And as the week goes on, there will be more funerals and memorial services at the chapel, including services for the three women killed in the car accident early Sunday.

"A lot of the female Mids are real down," said Midshipman 3rd Class Sean Stephenson of Salt Lake City. "Everybody knew the girls real well."

About 500 of the academy's 4,100 Mids are women. Making their way through a rigorous program that tests academic and physical skills, they form especially close bonds, some midshipmen said.

The Mids were told of the latest deaths Sunday night, when their companies assembled for night formation in Bancroft Hall, the sprawling gray dormitory that houses the entire brigade. The dead women were from the same company, the 32nd.

The victims were Midshipman 1st Class Lisa M. Winslow, 21, of Bowling Green, Ohio; Midshipman 3rd Class Autumn Pevzner, 19, of Bentonville, Ark.; and Midshipman 3rd Class Robin Pegram, 20, of Tampa, Fla.

They were passengers in a Ford Bronco driven by Midshipman 1st Class Brian L. Clark, 24, of Tigard, Ore., that crashed into a tree lying across Route 450, less than a mile from the Naval Academy. Midshipman Clark last night remained at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, his condition upgraded to fair. The group had been returning from Saturday's Army-Navy game in New Jersey.

"The company itself is going through a time right now," said Midshipman 4th Class Kristi Spencer, 19, of Belleville, Ill. "You see the long faces because they're well known," she said of the victims.

Second Class Midshipmen Giovanna Kostrabala, 20, of Little Washington, N.C., said that Lisa Winslow was one of her best friends. They would study together and talk about their future. Lisa, she said, talked of her plans to become a Marine Corps officer and a mother.

"I kind of hope she's up there in heaven, looking down on us smiling," she said, her eyes tearing. "I don't think she realized how many hearts she touched."

Midshipmen 3rd Class Kristi Zimmer and Lisa Lelli walked side-by-side near the Severn River, their eyes red from crying. The two were teammates of the victims -- Ms. Lelli playing club tennis with Ms. Pevzner, Ms. Zimmer and Ms. Pegram playing volleyball.

"She was crazy. She was wild. She was a great person," said Ms. Zimmer, 19, of Westland, Mich., suddenly brightening as she talked of her friend Robin. "She had a lot of heart. She's going to be missed."

On Sunday night the women's volleyball team talked with an academy chaplain. She recalled the chaplain saying, "We can't ask why because no one knows why. We have to remember the good things."

In the home towns of the women who died Sunday morning, their families were preparing funerals and remembering their daughters.

All three families talked of the pride they had. And all three spoke of the uniformed Navy personnel who appeared at their front doors Sunday bearing grim news.

In Bowling Green, Ohio, home of Lisa Winslow, her mother said the family knew when their oldest child left for the Naval Academy "that if a car came up the driveway and two people in uniform got out, we had lost her."

The car arrived about 1:30 Sunday afternoon, Betty Winslow said.

Only a few hours before, her daughter had called from New Jersey's Byrne Arena, where she and her buddies had gone after the Army-Navy game to watch a hockey game between the Chicago Black Hawks and the New Jersey Devils.

Ms. Winslow wanted the name of the Black Hawks player her 15-year-old brother liked, so she could try to get his autograph. "That was the kind of kid she was, thinking of her brother," Mrs. Winslow said. "She was on an open phone" in the noisy arena, "so we were shouting back and forth. It was nice to have one last conversation, even though it was silly."

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