Three teens, including a freshman football player at Texas A&M University and an incoming freshman football player at the University of Utah, died in a car accident in New Mexico on Monday night.
Polo Manukainiu, 19, was coming back from Utah on Monday night in a vehicle with Utah football recruit Gaius "Keio" Vaenuku, 18, current Euless Trinity player Lolo Uhatafe, 14, and two others.
All three players were passengers in a 2002 Toyota Sequoia when it drifted off the road while traveling southbound, overcorrected and rolled over shortly before 7 p.m. Mountain time on Monday.
The wreck happened north of Albuquerque on Highway 550, just north of Cuba, New Mexico.
Manukainiu and Uhatafe were dead at the scene of the wreck. Vaenuku died while being taken to a local hospital.
Salesi Uhatafe, Jr. was driving the vehicle according to family members. Another passenger in the vehicle was his father, Salesi Uhatafe, Sr., and both survived the wreck.
Uhatafe, Jr. was also an incoming freshman at Utah and plays offensive tackle.
State police said alcohol was not a factor in the wreck, but the driver appeared to be the only person in the vehicle wearing a seat belt.
Manukainiu tweeted before the trip, "22 hour drive back to Texas on no sleep. Oh my."
Hundreds of Trinity High School students gathered at the school on Tuesday afternoon for an impromptu memorial service.
The song "Lean on Me" was played while students rocked slowly back and forth to the music.
Grief counselors were at the school, even though school is not in session. Officials said grief counselors would also be available when classes resumed in August.
Manukainiu was a two-time all-district defensive end for Euless Trinity High School and redshirted in 2012 as a defensive lineman for Texas A&M.
"We lost a terrific young man," said Texas A&M head football coach Kevin Sumlin in a statement. "Polo was loved by his teammates and coaches. Anyone who came in contact with him was struck by his sense of humor and smile. My heart aches for his mom and family members."
Texas A&M teammate Johnny Manziel took to Twitter to share his grief.
"Heart hurts waking up to news about Polo.. I think I speak for everyone on our team when I say we love you brother you will be missed," Manziel tweeted.
University of Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham also released a statement.
"Everyone who knew Gaius is heartbroken today," said Whittingham. "He was the kind of young man who lit up a room and his future in football and life had no boundaries. Words cannot express our devastation over the loss of Gaius. This is a sad day not only for University of Utah football, but for everyone whose lives Gaius crossed or would have crossed but for this tragedy. Our hearts go out to Gaius' and Salesi's families, and to the Texas A&M coaches and players. We are praying for the speedy recovery of Salesi and his father."
Family members remember the young men as so much more than great football players.
"Everyone loved him," Dani Vake, leader of a youth group Vaenuku was a part of, said. "He really was a gentle giant, and he had a heart for everyone."
"My Life is not going to be the same. It's not gonna be the same," said Tulima Uhatafe, Polo and Lolo's mother. She spoke to her oldest son Polo on Wednesday and he told her, "One day mom I'm going to change our family. It'll be different."
"I'm devastated just like anybody. To lose one is major but to lose two then at the same time you got to feel for the other the other family. I've spoken with the other family it's tough I had to notify them," said David Eteaki, Polo and Lolo's uncle.
KDFW FOX 4
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