Students mourn Mainland High classmates killed in crash

June 24, 2012 9:06:49 AM PDT
The South Jersey towns of Linwood and Northfield are still reeling from the death of four Mainland Regional High School football players.

Students, parents, community members, and football team players donning game jerseys turned out to mourn their loss at an evening vigil Sunday.

Even some of the crash survivors were among the more than 3,000 who attended the vigil at the school stadium.

Photos of the four teens killed in the crash were placed at the center of the football field, drawing the attention of the attendees while speakers discussed the teens' accomplishments on and off the field.

"What I think more than anything is that they just need to lean on each other. That seems to be helping," said School Superintendent Thomas Baruffi.

A Facebook page has also been created in honor of the victims.

The page,"R.I.P. Mainland HS Boys. Gone but never forgotten" is filled with comments from friends, family and classmates.

"Right when it happened, I was in total shock, I was just praying it wasn't true," said Joey Geiger, 16, a member of the football team. "Every single play (this season) is now for them."

Chris Hickey of Linwood said her daughter Lauren, a junior at the school, was good friends with two of the teens killed in the crash.

"I don't even know what to tell her. I don't even know how to make sense of it," Hickey said.

Baruffi said he hoped the candlelight vigil would give people a place to come together and grieve. He said he has been through student deaths before, but never multiple deaths at the same time.

"They're always tragic," he said. "You know there's nothing you can say or do that's enough."

Earlier in the day, Action News spoke to Frank Bozzi, grief stricken over the untimely death of his son.

"He was the best son anybody could ever have, it's that simple," Bozzi said.

17-year-old Edgar Bozzi was one of the four players killed the crash.

The eight occupants were headed to a traditional end of summer practice lunch at the Old Country Buffet in Mays Landing, one of several places players often go to eat.

Bozzi says his son was a good defensive back, carried a 4.0 average, and loved drama competition. He looked forward to his senior year and then college.

"He never ever said a disrespectful word his whole life to anybody," Bozzi said.

Friends stopped by the school Sunday to lay flowers or just think about the lives lost all too soon.

Kayla Flockerzi was one of those reflecting; she was friends with Edgar.

"He was like the sweetest guy and I can't even describe it; it's so tragic," Flockerzi said holding back tears.

In addition to Edgar Bozzi who lived in Somers Point, killed were the driver, 17-year-old Casey Brenner of Northfield, 16-year-old Nick Conner of Northfield, and 15-year-old Dean Khoury of Linwood.

Four other teammates in the SUV sustained non-life-threatening injuries. They included two Linwood residents, 17-year-old Jacob Smith and 15-year-old Kenneth Randall, and two 16-year-old Northfield residents, Kyle Beattie and Alex Denafo.

The accident happened around 11:45 a.m. Saturday in the southbound lanes near exit 38A in Egg Harbor Township.

The driver, Brenner, somehow lost control of the SUV as it went around a crest in the road and came upon heavy traffic, said Sgt. Julian Castellanos, a state police spokesman.

The SUV overturned several times, ejecting two passengers, one of whom was struck by a passing car, Castellanos said.

Under New Jersey law, drivers under 18 generally are not allowed to carry more than one passenger unless a parent or guardian is in the vehicle. The eight boys in the SUV ranged in age from 15 to 17.

State police continued to investigate and did not release details Sunday on how fast the SUV was moving before the crash or whether the occupants were wearing seatbelts.

Barbara Cummings of Linwood knew all of the students.

"Just all around good boys, good in the community, very respectful individuals," Cummings said.

Friends have been visiting the school's football field because they say it just seemed right.

"They all loved football so much, it felt like this would be a good place to remember them," said Emily Dalessia.

"Every single one of those boys who died all had potential in life to do something great and make an impact on people's live," said friend Erika Reynolds.

Police closed off the street of the team's coach to give him some privacy following crash. However, Bob Coffey , the Mustangs coach since 1986, opened up Sunday about the players he lost.

"All four of them were so happy, doing so well," said Coffey.

At Khoury's family's home in Linwood, the driveway and street were packed with relatives' cars. Many in the family were crying, including his mother, Denise Khoury.

"He was the boy who made everybody smile," she said.

At the school, flags were flown at half mast and a memorial of flowers continued to grow.

"Nothing prepares you for anything like this. At this point everyone is just thinking about the families and their loss, and trying to think about what we can do to help them," said Baruffi.

Meanwhile, the students continue to pray for the teenagers who survived.

"It must be tough for them, but we love them and we are going to give them as much support as possible," said Julia Byrnes.

Coach Coffey said everyone except Jacob Smith was home from the hospital by Sunday afternoon, and Smith was expected home soon.

The team's photos were taken the night before the crash and Coffey says members of the squad have ask the team get together Tuesday to lift weights and have a light run through.

"Whatever the kids want to do. It's probably good for them to keep going and keep us going," said Coffey.

Tentatively, two funeral services will be held on Thursday, and the other two will be on Friday and Saturday.

The plan is to coordinate the timing of the services so that friends and family can attend all four funerals.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.