A Postwar Team
The Western International League had just resumed play in 1946, following three years without baseball during World War II. On June 24, the Spokane team held fifth place in the league and was opening a road trip that would begin in Bremerton. The night before, the team’s annual photo had been taken between games of a doubleheader at its home park, Ferris Field.
The Washington Motor Coach bus carried 16 team members as it left Spokane about 10 a.m. that day under drizzly skies. Two other players traveled separately in their own vehicle; the trainer, John "Dutch" Anderson, did not travel with the team because he was in San Francisco attending to personal business.
In Ellensburg, the bus stopped so the team could eat lunch. The bus driver took the bus into a garage for some quick repairs while waiting. During the meal, infielder Jack Lohrke received a message that he had been recalled by the San Diego Padres, then of the Pacific Coast League. The message had been transmitted from the Indians’ business manager in Spokane to the Ellensburg police via the Washington State Patrol. Lohrke did not get back on the bus with his teammates; instead, he hitchhiked back to Spokane.Baseball's Darkest Night
At that time, U.S. 10 was the route that carried traffic up and over Snoqualmie Pass. Dusk approached and rain fell as the bus climbed the pass on the two-lane highway. According to statements made by bus driver Glen Berg during later investigations, an eastbound black car crossed the center line about four miles west of the summit, headed straight for the bus. Berg swerved the bus toward the right shoulder, but the car sideswiped the front corner of the bus. The bus veered off the pavement, skidded on the wet roadway, and took out 125 feet of the protective barrier along the side of the road before careening over the edge and falling an estimated 300 to 500 feet into the ravine below. It rolled three times, tossing several players out through broken windows, and came to rest right side up before bursting into flames.
Six team members -- players Fred Martinez, Bob James, Bob Kinnaman, Bob Paterson, and George Risk, along with player-manager Mel Cole -- died at the scene. First baseman Vic Picetti was dead on arrival at King County Hospital in Seattle. Pitcher George Lyden died from his injuries the next day, and catcher Chris Hartje, who had been seriously burned, died two days later. Eight of the nine dead players -- all but Picetti -- had served in the military during World War II.
Donations poured in from fans and other baseball teams across the country. The Pacific Coast League joined with the Western International League for a benefit game to raise money for the Spokane players. Other teams lent players to the Indians, and the team returned to its schedule on July 4, finishing out the season with a ragtag roster. The injured players and the families of the dead received financial settlements from the donations and the bus company’s insurance settlement.
Three of the six injured players returned to the team eventually, but the others never played again. Berg, the bus driver, survived the accident but spent four months in the hospital recuperating from burns. Other than his report to investigators, he never granted an interview about the accident. The black car and its driver have remained a mystery.