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North Buffalo native killed in hot-air balloon crash in Virginia

A north Buffalo native was one of three people killed on board a hot-air balloon fire and crash in Virginia Friday. 24-year-old Natalie Lewis, working as Director of Basketball Operations for the University of Richmond women’s basketball program, was a 2007 graduate of Nardin Academy and the University of Richmond. 

Lewis was on the balloon ride with another the team’s associate head coach program when the balloon hit power lines and caught fire.  

The two were on board with the pilot. Two bodies were recovered Saturday.  A third was found Sunday.

Her parents, Patricia and Evan Lewis Sr., traveled to Virginia as the search was underway.  After the third body was recovered, the family issued this statement: 

Statement from the family of Natalie Mattimore Lewis                
May 11, 2014
2:10 p.m. EST

"We are stunned and saddened beyond any understanding over what has happened to our beloved Natalie.

We would like to thank everyone, particularly the Virginia State Police who worked tirelessly in the search and recovery process.  They have been thoroughly professional and very comforting to us.

Natalie’s University of Richmond family has surrounded us as well during these difficult days.

The people of Buffalo, New York, Natalie’s hometown, have provided prayers, support and love.  We have felt this from so many miles away over the past two days.

Natalie’s life was full of blessings, reflected by her unwavering and steadfast Catholic faith.  But, in so many ways,  her life was just beginning. She was engaged to marry the love of her life, Michael Dougher, and we now include him as another son in our grieving family.

It has been extremely difficult to deal with this tragedy, but our faith, our family, and our friends all give us strength.  Thank you for your continued prayers.

Patricia and Evan Lewis (Natalie’s parents)
Evan, Jr. and Caroline Lewis (Natalie’s brother and sister)
The family will not be providing any further public comment and appreciates the continued respect for their privacy at this time."

Credit Photo provided by Lewis family
The Lewis family, Natalie (center) with siblings Evan. Jr. and Caroline on left. Parents, Evan, Sr. and mother, Patricia Lewis.

Word of the tragedy spread quickly through the north Buffalo community Saturday, leaving many friends of the family shocked and sadden.

Lewis, graduated from college in 2011 with a degree in art history. She was on the swim team for four years at the school.  Lewis was also a swimmer during her years at Nardin with record-setting results.

In Buffalo Monday morning students at Nardin and Canisius High School remembered the young woman at Masses.  Nardin Academy principal Rebecca Reeder tells WBFO News Lewis would "light up the room" with her smile and was kind.

"She was beloved by faculty and students in the school, not just members in her class of 2007.  She was so spirited. She light up a room.  She had a great smile," said Reeder. "She was kind to everyone."

A north Buffalo parish was asked to pray for the Lewis family. A priest spoke of the tragedy during his sermon at Mass Sunday morning before members of St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church at Parker and Parkside. Mass Sunday.  

The Lewis family are St. Rose parishioners. The young woman’s father, Evan Lewis, has served as a long-time Eucharist minister at the church. The family is well-known and active at the parish.  During a sermon at a 103:0 Mass Father Thomas Ribits told the congregation the family was dealing with “hell on earth” as they deal with the horrific accident. 

Credit Photo provided by Lewis family
Natalie Lewis & fiance Michael Dougher.

Prayers were also offered for Natalie during the Prayer of the Faithful at the Mass.  Lewis was remembered in a morning Mass at Canisius High School in Buffalo Monday morning where her brother, Evan, Jr. had attended.

This is not the first time the St. Rose parish has dealt with a tragic accident, claiming the life of a young adult.  In June of 2003 Jay Wischerath of Buffalo died in a porch collapse in Chicago while attending a party.  The young man was a law student when he died.   In 2004, 18-year-old Sean Scott, a parishioner, drowned in a retention pond in Amherst during a party.  His parents, John & Cindy Scott, and the Wischerath’s have been long-time parishioners of the church. Both families were in church Sunday as the priest urged for prayers and support for the Lewis family.