A grief-stricken community showed up Sunday night at Mainland Regional High School football stadium to hold a prayer vigil for four high school football players who were killed in a crash on New Jersey’s Garden State Parkway Saturday.
The tragic accident occurred after football practice, when a car load of eight football players were on their way to an all-you-can-eat buffet for the whole team. Police reported that at a crest in the highway, the SUV came up on sudden heavy traffic. Casey Brenner, the 17-year old driver tried to stop quickly but apparently lost control of the SUV, which sped into the median flipping several times along the way. One of the boys was reportedly thrown from the vehicle.
Casey was killed, and so were Edgar Bozzi, 16, of Somers Point; Nicholas Conner, 16, from Northfield; and Dean Khoury, 15, of Linwood, according to State Police Sgt. Julian Castellanos.
Additionally, Kyle Beattie and Alex Denafo, both 16-year olds from Northfield, and Kenneth Randall, 15, and Jacob Smith, 17, of Linwood, were transported to Atlantic City Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
To honor the four students who died in this tragic accident, 3,000 members of the community, along with the football team dressed in their jerseys, and some of those injured in the crash, joined together in misty weather, which matched their spirits, to mourn their loss last night at their high school football stadium. Photos of the four teens who had died were prominently placed in the center of the field.
Some of those in attendance spoke of the teenager’s accomplishments both on and off the field, while others just cried and hugged each other.
Sixteen-year old, Joey Geiger said, “Right when it happened, I was in total shock, I was just praying it wasn’t true. Every single play (this season) is now for them.”
Chris Hickey, the parent of a Linwood student, Lauren, said that her daughter was good friends with two of the teens who were killed in the crash. “I don’t even know what to tell her. I don’t even know how to make sense of it,” Chris said.
Superintendent Thomas Baruffi said he has been through the tragedy of student deaths before, but never multiple deaths simultaneously. “They’re always tragic,” he said. “You know there’s nothing you can say or do that’s enough.” He expressed his hopefulness that the candlelight vigil would give people the opportunity to mourn their losses together.
State police are continuing their investigation, and as of yet, have not released any details as to how fast the SUV was moving before the crash or whether or not the boys were wearing seatbelts.
A sad footnote to this story is that under New Jersey law, drivers under the age of 18 are only permitted to transport one passenger unless a parent or guardian is in the vehicle with them. The oldest passenger of the SUV was 17.
Mainland Regional High School, which pulls its 1,600 students from Linwood, Somers Point, and Northfield, begins school on September 12, but the Mainland Mustangs first scheduled game is September 9; a game, I’m sure, which will be an emotional one for both the team and the community.
I’m confident that I speak for everyone when I say our hearts and our prayers go out to the families and friends of these four boys, to those who were injured in the crash, to the students and staff of Mainland Regional High School, and to the community at large.