Texas A&M University defensive lineman Polo Manukainiu, University of Utah football player Gaius Vaenuku and a junior high school student died when their sports utility vehicle overturned on a New Mexico highway.
Manukainiu, 19, was a redshirt freshman at A&M, while Vaenuku, 18, was an incoming freshman defensive tackle at Utah, according to a police report and information from the two schools. The third person killed was Andrew Uhatafe, 13, a student at Euless Trinity Junior High School in Euless, Texas, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the police said. The two older victims were graduates of Trinity High School; everyone in the vehicle was from Euless.
Two others in the vehicle, driver Siaosi Uhatafe and Salesi Uhatafe Sr., his father, were transported to a hospital in San Juan, New Mexico, with minor injuries, according to a New Mexico State Police report. The driver, also a freshman football player at Utah, was the only person wearing a seatbelt.
The SUV was on the way back to Texas from Utah when the accident occurred at 6:52 p.m. local time yesterday north of Albuquerque. Police said the vehicle, southbound on U.S. Route 550 in Sandoval County, started drifting toward the passenger side. The driver overcorrected, causing it to roll over several times, according to the report. The victims were dead when police arrived.
In a final posting on Twitter, Manukainiu wrote: “22 hour drive back to Texas on no sleep. Oh my.”
“We lost a terrific young man,” Texas A&M football coach Kevin Sumlin said in a press release. “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.”
“Everyone who knew Gaius is heartbroken today,” Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham said in a release. “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.
Texas A&M quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel posted this message on Twitter: “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.”