Over 300 gather in honor of Eugene firefighter killed in helicopter crash

Over 300 gather in honor of Eugene firefighter killed in helicopter crash »Play Video

EUGENE, Ore. -- Family members, friends and fellow firefighters have paid their respects to a Southern Oregon University student who died fighting fires to earn college money and become a sports journalist.

Nearly 300 people gathered Monday at First Baptist Church on the outskirts of Eugene, home to the family of Scott Charlson.

He was among nine people who died when a helicopter ferrying firefighters crashed last week in Northern California.

Speakers said Charlson overcame physical and mental challenges to do the summer work on the fire line.

Eight of the victims were from Oregon, and a number of services and other events are planned this week, including a tribute to all the victims planned Friday at the Jackson County fairgrounds.

At First Baptist Monday, before the color guard, before the first words from the pastor, the memorial began on a most poignant note: the voice of Scott himself.

"Hey, it's Scott. I just got called out to a fire in California. Thought I would just call and let you guys know," he said in a phone message home to his parents, Nina and Rick, early last week.

Scott had spent a busy summer on the lines for Grayback Forestry of Merlin, Ore., "to fight fire, to save homes and save the creation he so deeply loved," Senior Pastor Ben Cross said, "and it's there that he gave his life."

Scott's best friend for the past eight years, Tim Murphy said he and Scott were inseperable.

"I feel most people get comfortable and enjoy what their life brings, but Scott was someone who wanted all of life," Murphy said.
       
Fellow firefighters shared from the heart about Scott.

"You think, man, I don't know if I want to do this," said Andy Barrey, a Grayback firefighter, "but you push through it and step up, and that's what Scott did too."

"It's very hard," said Scott's mother, Nina. "You need to let your kids become their own person. What will happen, will happen. He knew who he was. We are very proud of him for that, for who he was as a person."

A common theme was Charlson's love of sports — both as a player of hockey, lacrosse and other sports and as a budding sports journalist. He was a sports editor at the student paper two years ago at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, and wrote for the university's sports information service last year.

"He was a sports nut. But he loved writing about it as much as playing sports. It was his passion," said D.L. Richardson, chairman of the communications department at the university.

The surviving helicopter pilot, William Coultas of Cave Junction, remained in critical condition Monday at the University of California Davis Medical Center in Sacramento with burns over 35 percent of his body.

Other survivors include Michael Brown, 20, and Jonathan Frohreich, 18, of Medford, who were discharged from the medical center on Saturday. They suffered burns and broken bones.

The fourth survivor, Rick Schroeder, 42, of Medford, suffered a cracked shoulder and vertebra, along with scratches, bruises and a badly cut lip. He was released Friday from Mercy Medical Center in Redding, Calif.

The Associated Press contributed to this report