While schools from a number of states kicked off the football season on Friday and Saturday, one school in New Jersey is left to mourn the tragic loss of four of its budding football stars following a one-car accident on a highway on the Garden State Parkway.
According to the Associated Press and a variety of other sources, the Press of Atlantic City prominent among them, four members of the Mainlands Regional (N.J.) High football team were pronounced dead shortly after the accident in question, while four other team members were transported to area hospitals with non-life threatening injuries. The remaining four surviving student athletes are expected to survive the crash.
The tragic traffic accident occurred as the eight players were en route to an organized team meal after a Saturday morning practice. The SUV they were driving rode up on a crest on the Garden State Parkway before encountering sudden and unexpected heavy traffic.
When the driver of the SUV quickly applied his brakes, the SUV rolled over a number of times, ejecting two passengers, one of whom was killed when he was struck by a car in oncoming traffic. The driver of the car and two ejected passengers both died on site and a fourth was pronounced dead after being transported to a nearby hospital.
The AP has confirmed that the vehicle was driven by 17-year-old Edgar Bozzi, with teammates Dean Khoury, Casey Brenner and Nick Conner also passing away in the accident.
Within hours of the tragedy, friends and family members of the football players turned a Facebook page into a makeshift virtual memorial, with thousands of online well wishers leaving messages of support for the living relatives of the victims.
"My nephew, Casey [Brenner] was one of the boys," Allison Brenner Gustray, Brenner's aunt, wrote on the Facebook page 'R.I.P Mainland HS Boys. Gone but never forgotten,' which has been liked over 25,000 times since its creation. "He was a wonderful, thoughtful young man, who I love very much."
Those who are not family members were also quick to weigh in on the tragedy. As one recent Mainland grad wrote, none of the dead ever got to reach the hallmarks of high school so often cherished in American culture.
"None of you ever got to reach the big 18," A.J. Kooz, a 2011 Mainland graduate wrote on the Facebook page. "I'm still in shock. Nothing around here will ever be the same. You four will never be forgotten by any of us. It's not fair, God took you guys away from us so soon."
It remains unknown when the Mainland football team will return to practice, but two scrimmages scheduled for the forthcoming week have already been canceled. The AP also reported that grief counselors would be made available for any teenagers affected by the tragedy, beginning at 5 p.m. on Sunday. Shortly thereafter a candlelight vigil is schedule at the school's football field.
"They're always tragic," Mainland schools Superintendent Thomas Banuffi told the AP. "You know there's nothing you can say or do that's enough. ...
"This is never a sacrifice you want to make."
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