Rain started to fall Saturday morning in Gheens as the news spread. After more than 24 hours on life support, 17-year-old Tyler Dufrene had died.
Less than an hour later, an intimate group of distant relatives and family friends gathered underneath the pavilion at the Gheens Community Center to pray for Dufrene's family.
Many family members spent the night beside the recent Central Lafourche High School graduate at University Hospital in New Orleans, praying for a miracle.
“He was an amazing person. He would make you smile no matter what,” said Central Lafourche classmate Kylie Folse.
Dufrene's friends said they will always remember the Gheens native as a good listener and for his honesty.
“I could tell anything to him. And just being able to tell him anything, and him tell you the truth behind it was amazing. Even if what he had to say was mean,” Folse said, grinning.
Dufrene was friends with everyone but liked to be by himself. Classmate Carley Triche said Dufrene would sit alone at school assemblies and other get-togethers, but he wasn't a loner.
“He always had a smile on his face,” Triche said.
Dufrene loved to fish for bass, hunt ducks and play baseball, friends and family said. He had made plans to spend the weekend frog hunting with friends.
Raceland resident Casey Nieves led a group prayer for Tyler's family.
“We just ask for your supernatural peace,” Nieves said. “Though there are some of us who don't understand why this happened, we ask that you give us peace and as much understanding.”
Nieves was friends with Tyler's sister, who attended the same church and didn't meet Tyler until Thursday night. She said she was struck by his personality.
“He seemed like a lot of fun,” Nieves said. “The main thing that I saw was his personality come out when his class was walking for commencement, and he literally stopped the whole line and posed for a picture that his sister was taking.”
Dufrene planned to join the Marines in August, family members said.
“I can honestly say he's the nicest nephew I got,” said Dufrene's uncle, Lafourche Parish Councilman Lindel Toups. “He was a good all-around kid, looked like he wanted to do something with his life.”
His mother, Angela Sampey, said she always remember the last words she spoke to her son.
“The last time I talked to him, I told him I loved him, and he said 'I love you too, Mom,' ” she said Friday.
Just hours after graduating Wednesday night, Dufrene was driving south on La. 1 just north of the Valentine Bridge in a 1997 Jeep Cherokee when he was struck head-on by a 2005 Chevy Silverado pickup.
Michael Costello, 20, of Golden Meadow, was driving the truck north and swerved across the centerline, hitting Dufrene's SUV, police said.
Dufrene was pronounced brain dead at 2:22 p.m. Thursday and put on life support to preserve his organs for donation to patients awaiting transplants. But on Friday morning, when doctors touched his hand, they saw it move and re-evaluated his medical condition. Dufrene was pronounced dead shortly after 9 this morning.
A donor by wish, his organs are expected to help about 30 people, family members said.
Police said they suspect alcohol use by Costello was a factor. After the crash, he was taken to Ochsner-St. Anne Hospital in Raceland with what police described as minor injuries.
Costello was booked Wednesday into the Lafourche Parish jail on charges of first-degree vehicular negligent injury, operating a vehicle while intoxicated and failure to drive on the correct side of the road, authorities said. He was released Thursday on bonds totaling $36,050.
State Police said tonight that they were consulting with the Lafourche Parish District Attorney's Office and that new charges are pending against Costello.
If he is charged with vehicular homicide — which applies in fatal crashes in which a drunken driver is determined at fault — Costello would face five to 30 years in prison if convicted.
Blood tests for alcohol and drugs, required in all fatal crashes, are pending.
Nieves said today's memorial was to pray for Tyler's family and for anyone touched by his death.
“No matter what, all things work together for good for those that work with God. It's his plan, but we trust him, and we're praying for the family. We believe for the family that they're going to have some peace in this.”