Local News

Former Wolfpack basketball standout dies in Raleigh bus wreck

Posted June 27, 2011
Updated June 28, 2011

— A former Wolfpack basketball standout who thrust the game-winning dunk into the hoop at the 1983 NCAA championship game was killed in a bus wreck on Interstate 40 in Raleigh Monday afternoon.

Lorenzo Emile Charles, 47, was pronounced dead at the scene. Tire tracks in the grass show that the bus careened off the interstate, hitting branches and sustaining heavy damage to its front end.

No other vehicles were involved in the wreck, which happened around 5 p.m. on I-40 West near the N.C. Highway 54 interchange, and no passengers were on the bus at the time.

The crash closed two lanes of traffic and the entrance ramp from Chapel Hill Road for several hours, Raleigh police spokesman Jim Sughrue said.

The cause of the crash is still under investigation.

Charles made March Madness history when he clinched the title for North Carolina State University over the favored University of Houston Cougars right as the buzzer sounded more than two decades ago. 

He had a brief career in the National Basketball Association with the Atlanta Hawks from 1985 to 1986 and then played professionally in Europe for about 12 years before retiring from basketball and settling back into the Raleigh area.

Lorenzo Charles killed in bus wreck Tour bus wrecks off I-40, killing Wolfpack basketball legend

For the last 10 years, Charles was a driver for Elite Coach, a limo, charter bus and car service based in Apex. A spokesman for the company declined to be interviewed, but said the bus was headed to Durham to pick up passengers and that all of their drivers were required to pass a medical exam.

In an 2008 interview with WRAL News to celebrate the 25th anniversary of that famous NCAA title game, Charles called N.C. State his "Wolfpack family" and said that while he wasn't sure he could recreate his legendary dunk, he could definitely touch the rim.

"Yeah, I still got it," he joked. 

Thurl Bailey, who played with Charles on the 1983 championship team, said, "I guess Jimmy V finally found somebody to hug."

Coach Jim Valvano, nicknamed Jimmy V, who died of cancer in 1993, famously ran up and down the sidelines after Charles's shot clinched the title looking for someone to hug.

"It's a shame that the man behind the shot isn't here with us anymore," Bailey said. 

Current N.C. State head basketball coach Mark Gottfried said the university community was "stunned"  and "devastated" to hear the news of Charles' death.

"He holds a special place in Wolfpack history and in the hearts of generations of fans," Gottfried said in a statement.

Friends, teammates react to Lorenzo Charles' death

Dominique Wilkins, vice president of the Atlanta Hawks and Charles' former teammate, lauded the basketball great for the "indelible impact" he left on sports lore with his accomplishments at N.C. State.

"He was a great guy, who was loved by his teammates and taken away from us far too soon," Wilkins said in a statement.

Chris Corchiani, a former basketball player who joined the Wolfpack two years after Charles' departure, said the 1983 championship win drew him to the university.

"I remember watching the game like it was yesterday. That put N.C. State on the map for me as far as a player and a student athlete," Corchiani said.

He later played with Charles on a Triangle-area basketball team and stayed in contact with him over the years. Charles remained an avid Wolfpack fan throughout his life, Corchiani said.

"He affected a lot of people's lives, and a lot of people wouldn't be at this university if it wasn't for this '83 team. I'm one of those people," Corchiani said. "It's a very sad day for the whole university."

Corchiani said he'd never forget Charles' unique laugh.

"If you were around him and he laughed, it was a loud laugh. It was not a quiet laugh. It was Lorenzo's laugh," he said. "Everybody knew it, and it was his trademark."


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  • tierneemalinadeveaux Jun 28, 2011

    I'm a Duke fan, but you have to love that '83 championship game. That was the beginning of my love for basketball. I was a senior in high school, and some of my friends who graduated the year before me had already gone to State. I remember being in awe of their stories about seeing the basketball players on campus, and one of those players was Lorenzo Charles. Though I never met him, I have heard many nice things about him. Condolences to his family and friends.

  • personality Jun 28, 2011

    I want to send my condolences to the Charles family/friends and to the Wolfpack family.

    Situation like what occurred with Charles, or with anyone else for that matter, is what makes life so much more important than any game that anyone can play or be a fan of, it is the person and how they lived their life, not how they played a game or whom they pulled for while they are alive.

    GOD Bless Lorenzo Charles and family..........

  • carolinarox Jun 28, 2011

    I am a Carolina fan, but the 1983 NCSU championship game -- the whole series really from the ACC tourney on -- was the most exciting run of basketball I have ever watched!

  • RB aka Spirit Warrior Woman Jun 28, 2011

    What a shame!

    Praying for those who loved him.

    And ya know folks, we can guess and speculate on how this happened until the cows come home. The truth is, it just makes us look callused and foolish until all the details are known, cause for all anyone knows, a bee flew into his face and he was swatting at it (how's that for dreaming up a reason). So let's just let it go and think about those who cared about him who may be reading these comments and show some respect.

  • cwood3 Jun 28, 2011

    GREAT SMILE-GREAT MAN-fine example of the Wolfpack tradition.
    Jimmy V was at the gates of heaven to welcome Lo in with a big bear hug!

  • allarskc Jun 28, 2011

    I was a grad student at Carolina the night of that amazing game. A group of us piled into a car that night and drove down 54 into wolfpack country (that stretch of I-40 didn't exist yet) and celebrated on the brickyard. I'll never forget that night. RIP Lorenzo. I bet you and Jim have a lot to catch up on.

  • Aaaarrrggghhh Jun 28, 2011

    As I drove by the wreck yesterday, I thought it looked like he had driven over the top of that hill. I'm wondering if he had a heart attack and that is why he drove in the grass along side the highway and over the exit, onto the hill and back down. It is a sad story. Good thing the bus was empty.

  • Mobile Geek Jun 28, 2011

    Went back and looked at the video footage. My bad. Lorenzo did dunk it, not lib it. What can I say. I saw it 28 years ago. I'm sure I was trolled well. :)

  • jdupree Jun 28, 2011

    PS, Lorenzo followed up his 1983 winning dunk over Houston for the championship with a season opening win, equally unexpected over Houston. The Sports Industry set the follow-up game up as a rematch. Lorenzo and a tiny guy named Spud had another surprise for Phi Slamma Jamma!!!!!!

  • Chloe93o Jun 28, 2011

    May he rest in peace! God please help his family accept the things they can't change.