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BUTLER FAMILY'S INJURIES CAST GLOOM OVER BILLS

The Buffalo Bills boarded a plane bound for Arizona on Saturday afternoon, but their thoughts and prayers stayed home with the family of organization General Manager John Butler.

Alice Butler, 48, John Butler's wife, and her 73-year-old father, James Bonnell of Sidney, Ill., were listed in critical but stable condition late Saturday in the intensive care unit of Erie County Medical Center after a two-van collision Friday morning in Orchard Park.

Bills spokesman Scott Berchtold said doctors have informed the team that both Mrs. Butler and her father are improving.

"It looks like they're out of the woods," Berchtold said Saturday night from Phoenix.

The two were traveling home on Armor Duells Road after a trip to buy a Christmas tree when they were struck by a van that apparently ran a stop sign at the corner of Duerr Road shortly before 11:30 a.m. Unconscious at the scene, Mrs. Butler was taken by Mercy Flight to ECMC.

According to Berchtold, doctors at the medical center remain "optimistic" and said if the conditions of the two continue to improve over the "next 24 hours," they could possibly be removed from intensive care.

Mrs. Butler, who suffered "major internal injuries," according to Berchtold, underwent successful emergency surgery at ECMC. Her condition was stabilized late Friday evening.

Besides Berchtold, Buffalo Bills coach Wade Phillips and his wife, Laurie; defensive line coach John Levra and several other members of the team staff were with Butler while the surgery was taking place.

"We always say this team's a family. Sometimes you don't know how strong it is until there's a situation like this," Berchtold said.

The collision also sent the driver of the other van, Brian Rohde, 31, of Parkview Avenue, and his passenger, William Sywak, 24, to the medical center. Rohde was treated and released; Sywak has since been discharged from the hospital.

It was the Rohde vehicle that apparently failed to stop at the intersection, but according to Orchard Park police, charges in the crash were still pending Saturday afternoon. The initial telephone call about the accident came in to Ralph Wilson Stadium just as the team was breaking practice shortly after 1 p.m. Friday, Berchtold recounted.

"John took the call. As soon as he took the call we knew something was wrong," Berchtold said.

The Bills staff went into "emergency mode," Berchtold said. Staff members immediately took Butler to the medical center and stayed with him until late in the evening.

Butler told Berchtold that he was grateful for the wishes extended to him and his family by "thousands of fans," those within the Bills staff and across Western New York. The general manager, who remained in Buffalo to be with his wife and father-in-law, instructed team members to focus their attention on tonight's game with the Arizona Cardinals, Berchtold said.

"That is the nature of the business. Once we land, we have to take care of business in Arizona," Berchtold said. "The players are very concerned -- a lot of them have been with John Butler for a long time."

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