The news hit Tyus Batiste and Trevor Taufahema like a wrecking ball.
Both students and football players at Birmingham High, Batiste and Taufahema each lost a relative in a two-car crash in Sylmar on Friday, Aug. 22. The victims — Isaiah Hastings, 19 and Alexander Manu, 18, were passengers in the car driven by Eldridge Salguero, who lost control of the vehicle, swerved into oncoming traffic and collided with a minivan. Hastings and Manu were killed; Salguero, 18, was hospitalized and listed in critical condition.
The driver of the other vehicle, Suh MinKyung, 44, and her 11-year-old child were taken to the hospital with minor injuries.
All three male accident victims had played football and graduated from Birmingham, and were either on or joined the team at College of the Canyons. All had relatives on the Birmingham team. Hastings was a cousin to Batiste (and also Travon Wilson, who has an undefined position on the team). Manu was a cousin to Taufahema. Salguero’s younger brother, Sterling, is a running back for the Patriots.
Thanks in part to the speed and widespread use of social media, neither Batiste nor Taufahema had to go through their initial grief alone. On Sunday, Aug. 24, an estimated 2,500 friends and supporters who got the word via Facebook and Twitter, gathered at the Birmingham football stadium to comfort each other and reflect.
“[The turnout] showed me all the love this is spread out in the Valley,” Taufahema said. “There were people from other schools who came here; from colleges, too, like Glendale, Pierce and [L.A.] Valley.
“We were happy to see each other. We were all sad and depressed, but we just kept telling each other that they were now in a better place.”
Taufahema was one of those who spoke at the vigil, telling the crowd how Hastings and Manu were “really great people” to try to help those who were grieving to “make it through.”
Batiste decided not to speak on Sunday. On Monday he was still struggling with the loss, deciding not to dress for football practice. But he said he planned to resume workouts with the team the following day.
He said he was surprised but gratified by the turnout, and “all the love and respect people showed.”
“It shocked me,” Batiste said. “I didn’t know how much people loved Manu and Isaiah, how much they cared for Eldridge. I was in disbelief that so many cared about someone I loved with all my heart.”
The students weren’t the only ones rocked by the accident. Head football coach Jim Rose had worked with all three young men, as recently as this summer when they would come by and workout with the current Birmingham players when they had a break in the College of the Canyons schedule.
“They were still ‘here,’” Rose said. “It wasn’t like we hadn’t seen them in years, or stuff like that. The [players] here physically saw them.
“We had 2,500 people out here for them. And we don’t have 2,500 football players. That goes to show you how they touched people. It wasn’t just football. It was the entire school community as a whole.”
Rose also has to be concerned of how shock and grief will affect his players as they prepare for the season opener against Newbury Park on Friday, Aug. 29. He said he’s talked with good friend Ed Croson, former Birmingham coach who’s now at Chaminade, and College of the Canyon’s Coach Ted Iacenda — “he was immediately affected, too” — about how to approach the week. But he realized he and the team — and the students — would have to work through things themselves.
“I feel we need to play and get as normal as we can as fast as we can,” Rose said. “I don’t know who’s going to play yet. But the meaning of this game is [now] different. We want to win; but we have to get through the game.”
Both Batiste and Taufahema said they want to play to honor their fallen relatives.