Joint funeral service to be held Monday for Hilton Head High car crash victims

rlurye@islandpacket.comMarch 29, 2014 

A single funeral will be held Monday for two Hilton Head Island High School seniors killed in a horrific Friday morning car accident that left two other students injured.

The families of Cory Rocha, 18, and Cesar Herrera, 17, have chosen to hold a joint service at Holy Family Catholic Church, 24 Pope Avenue on Hilton Head, according to Allen Funeral Home. Visitation is from 4 p.m. until a Mass at 6 p.m.

To help defray funeral costs, members of Holy Family and St. Francis By the Sea Catholic Church delivered donation boxes to about a dozen Hispanic stores and restaurants Saturday, including La Tampiquena on Mathews Court and Sebastian Multiservices on Fording Island Road and Mathews Drive.

Also Saturday, a makeshift memorial of prayer candles, photographs and bouquets of roses, lilies and carnations grew by the hour at the base of the tree the car struck just before 7 a.m. on Dillon Road. Bark was ripped away by the car's impact more than 10 feet above the ground. Pieces of metal were strewn around the area, some of it from the engine that was ripped from the vehicle and thrown more than 15 feet, according to a Beaufort County Sheriff's Office report.

Driver Ramon Morales, 17, and passenger Michelle Alvares, 16, were injured in the crash. They remain hospitalized in Savannah's Memorial University Medical Center. Their conditions were unavailable Saturday. A friend of the students who visited them said both families have requested privacy.

The crash occurred as the four were on their way to school Friday. The car, a 2011 Ford Focus, struck a culvert, went airborne and hit the tree outside the Airport Office Park at 21 Dillon Road, according to the S.C. Highway Patrol.

None of the four was wearing a seat belt, Senior Trooper Hannah Wimberly said Friday.

Rocha, Herrera and Morales were ejected. Rocha and Herrera died at the scene, and Morales was airlifted to the hospital with life-threatening injuries, the report said.

Alvares was extricated from the car and flown to the hospital with serious injuries, the report said.

Hundreds of people attended a vigil at the school Friday evening to mourn the loss of the teens and pray for the recovery of the injured.

The Highway Patrol's Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team will study the crash scene through next week as the investigation continues, Wimberly said.

The accident pained a community already reeling from the loss of a recent graduate in December.

Vianery Garcia, 19, was killed in a one-vehicle crash in Hilton Head Plantation that lead to DUI charges against the 19-year-old driver, Matt Zitello.

The school lost another senior, 18-year-old Michael DeVincentis, eight years ago Tuesday.

Beaufort County Board of Education Chairman Bill Evans, a former Hilton Head High principal, said Friday's wreck brought him back to one six-week period in the late 1990s when two car wrecks claimed the lives of a student and a teacher. Years earlier, Evans was principal at a California high school that lost six seniors in one wreck just a few weeks shy of graduation.

"You never get callous to it," he said.

On Saturday, however, he said he was proud of how the community has come together to support not only the families of those effected but all members of the school.

"For many of them, this is their first experience with someone they know dying, and that's not something we always teach our kids how to deal with," he said. "You have to provide that support."

Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.

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2 students die in Hilton Head wreck on way to school Friday, March 28, 2014:

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