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Sunday, June 27, 2010
Murphys seeking strength

By Jemele Hill

PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa -- The World Cup was supposed to be an incredible adventure for the tight-knit, soccer-crazed Murphy family.

Nicole Murphy was a four-year starter at the University of Tampa and helped the Spartans win a Division II national championship in soccer in 2007. Her sister, Kellie, is a promising midfielder at LSU, and their youngest sibling, Danielle, is also set to play for LSU in the fall.

In all, five Murphys journeyed to South Africa -- the three women, their 19-year-old brother, Brian, and their father, Danny -- but only four will return alive.

On Tuesday, a suspected drunk driver slammed into Nicole, Kellie and Brian as they walked home from a nearby concert in Cape Town, killing Nicole instantly, injuring Kellie and leaving Brian with a head injury so severe he's in an induced coma in a South African hospital. Kellie, 20, suffered a mild concussion. According to their older brother, Lucas, who was not in South Africa, if an emergency medical technician who happened to be walking the same way hadn't applied a tracheal tube to Brian immediately, he also might have died at the scene.

The family was supposed to attend the U.S.-Ghana match on Saturday in Rustenberg, where it would have been in the company of many heartbroken Americans. Today, the Murphys suffer from a heartache that can hardly compare.

"Sometimes, I just break down, which I try not to do in front of my mom," Lucas Murphy said from the family's hometown of Lafayette, La. "I'm trying my best to be strong. You can't ask yourself why. You just have to try to move on."

Murphy accident
The Murphys, from left to right: Lauren, 27, Brian, 19, Danielle, Nicole, 24, Kellie, 20, Lucas, 27

That's more difficult for the Murphys to do, given the challenging circumstances. The family still must transport Nicole, a 24-year-old, third-year medical student in New Orleans, back to the states, although Lucas said a U.S. consulate has offered help.

The hope is that everyone can be in the states when they can give Nicole a proper burial, but that could be complicated. Danny is still in South Africa overseeing the care of Brian, who can't return to the states until his condition stabilizes. But for Brian to come home, he requires a special medical jet that Lucas said likely will cost in excess of $300,000 -- money the family doesn't have. LSU is seeking donations from the public on the Murphys' behalf because five of the six Murphy children attend or graduated from the university. Lucas said the family's medical expenses are covered by insurance, but the cost of the plane is not.

It was a senseless tragedy and, according to Lucas, a hit-and-run accident. Lucas said the police arrested a 22-year-old driver the next day because his license plate fell off his car before he fled. Once Brian's prognosis becomes clearer, Lucas said the police have told the family they will decide what charges to pursue.

"I don't even want to think about [the driver]," Lucas said. "People have tried to show me his Facebook page and articles written about it. He's a 22-year-old kid. I just don't care."

Lucas has more pressing matters, such as worrying about the emotional well-being of his family, how the Murphys will tell Brian about Nicole's death once he's awake, and whether his little brother will be the same bright college freshman who could take apart a computer and put it back together.

"He might wake up, and we might have to teach him how to talk again," he said.

Lucas doesn't ask why, but he does wonder how. How does his sister Nicole, who had such a zest for life that she went skydiving at least 12 times, leave the Earth this way? How is it that Nicole, whom he described as being fearless and determined, who trained for triathlons, played in five recreational soccer leagues, joined the Army and ran five miles a day with her two dogs, is gone?

"She knew what she wanted, and she went after it," he said. "She didn't let anything stand in her way."

In addition to donations, a memorial soccer tournament will be held at Louisiana Avenue Field in New Orleans on Saturday from 3-7 p.m. Donations will be taken upon admittance; players will be charged $25 each. For more information, go to

Jemele Hill can be reached at