HOUMA, La. – Emotions poured out at a Memorial Mass for four high school students killed in a pickup truck crash early Sunday morning as they returned from watching the LSU-W. Virginia game in Baton Rouge.
The four died when the truck had trouble navigating a turn and hit a guardrail and flipped, landing on its top in a bayou and becoming submerged.
The deceased were mourned and remembered as model students: Gabrielle Hebert, a school cheerleader; T.J. Cantrelle, the school’s quarterback and a valedictorian candidate; Megan Hitt, who worked with campus ministries; and Ian Haydel, a sophomore on the football squad.
“I just want everybody to pray for our families,” said Rachel Hebert, Gabrielle’s mother.” Those kids were beautiful. They were the best they could be. They were angels.”
Rachel Hebert addressed students at the assembly and comforted friends of her daughter. She said the crash was an accident and was something that was uncontrollable.
Grief counselors and priests were on hand for counseling and a spokesman said they would be available for as long as necessary.
Many of the students were visibly upset.
“I think every child should learn to appreciate parents asking you where you’re going and not roll your eyes,” said student Megan Dupre. “Cause they’re doing it for your good.”
“Those four people had a lot of people that cared about them,” Dyllon Rhodes, 17, a senior offensive lineman at Vandebilt told the Houma Courier.
Cantrelle and Haydel were members of the football team. Cantrelle was the quarterback. Haydel was a defensive back.
Cantrelle helped lead Vandebilt Catholic to a 34-12 win over South Lafourche this season, completing 7-of-12 passes for 113 yards and one passing touchdown. He also rushed five times for six yards and caught one pass for 8 yards.
After Friday's game against South Lafourche, a win that left Cantrelle optimistic about the remaining season, he told the Courier newspaper, “We have a special team, and I love playing with these guys.”
T.J., short for “Third James,” had gotten scholarship offers from colleges. He wanted to play football and basketball at Louisiana College in Pineville, and then come back and take over his father's contracting business, Cantrelle Jr. said. His mother is Amy Hohensee.
He also had a strong faith, something that was evident following Vandebilt's Sept. 3 win over E.D. White.
“I remember him telling me ‘All week long I would pray God would let me play in the game. He allowed me to play, and I'll never doubt God again,' ” Cantrelle Jr. said to the Courier. “The most solace I can take from this, I know his faith was strong, and he had God in his heart.”
Hitt, an active member of the campus ministry, planned to go to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and study to be a physical therapist, said Meghan Plaisance, a friend of both Hitt's and Hebert's.
“She was a really strong person,” Plaisance told the Courier. “Even if she was upset, she wouldn't show it. She didn't want to upset anyone else.”
Hitt's parents are Cindy and Kevin Hitt.
Hebert was a cheerleader at Vandebilt. Her parents are Rachel and Todd Hebert.
“She always had fun,” Plaisance said. “There was just something about her that could make you laugh.”
Ian Haydel, called Bug by family and friends, was popular and well-liked.
Chris Haydal, Ian's father, said he was also called Smalls, because of his slight stature. His mother is Tammie Haydel.
Haydel, a sophomore, was the Terriers starter at free safety on defense. His biggest play this season was on Sept. 17 in a game against Assumption, when he recovered a fumble and returned it 98 yards for a touchdown. Vandebilt went on to win the game, 41-16.
“Ian was a little bit younger but certainly was showing already his abilities,” said Ralph Mitchell, Terrebonne's former public-safety director and longtime announcer at Vandebilt games.
Lisa Vegas, a spokeswoman for Vandebilt, said counselors were on campus this morning to help students deal with the devastating news.
A single death “devastates the whole school,” she said, but four at a time is “just something we never imagined we had to deal with.”
Plans are to hold a wake for all four teens on campus, but details have not been finalized.
“It's just a devastating and tragic loss,” Mitchell said. “As a community, we need to pull together and support the families and the school and help them through this.”
Chris Singleton contributed to this report. Staff Writer Eric Heisig can be reached at 857-2202 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Senior Staff Writer John DeSantis can be reached at 850-1150 or email@example.com.
Authorities haven't released an official cause for the crash, but Cantrelle's father, James Cantrelle Jr., and grandfather, James Cantrelle Sr., said it appears the teen fell asleep at the wheel.
It is not clear if the students wore their seat belts, police said.
According to State Police spokesman Bryan Zeringue, the four were traveling home late after the LSU game and one of the occupants of the truck texted their parents around 12:45 a.m. Sunday to say they would be home soon. When they had not shown up by 3 a.m., the parents began to conduct their own search.
Zeringue said a missing persons report was filed around 8 a.m. and that officers began backtracking the roads the students may have travelled.
A GPS signal from the cell phone of one of the teens was used to locate the pickup.
Zeringue said one officer found just the wheels of the vehicle sticking out of a bayou near La. 182 and La. 316 where the pickup had apparently gone off the road after striking a guardrail.
The incident occurred in Bayou Blue, a community between Houma and Raceland.
“For unknown reasons, the driver failed to negotiate a slight right bank curve and crossed the center line,” said Zeringue. “The car crossed the center line and went off the roadway on the eastbound lane, striking a guardrail for the bridge and going into the bayou. The car was fully submerged.”
According to a story on the Houma Courier web site, classmates gathered near the scene and said they were preparing for a prayer service at a private home.
The cause of the wreck is under investigation by Louisiana State Police Troop C.
Below is the funeral information for each of the victims:
Wake - Tuesday, 6:30-9:00 p.m. Chauvin Funeral Home
Funeral - Wednesday, 1:30 p.m. St. Francis de Sales Cathedral
Wake - Wednesday, 5:00-9:00 p.m. St. Hilary of Poitiers Catholic Church
Funeral - Thursday, 11:00 a.m. St. Hilary of Poitiers Catholic Church
Wake - Wednesday, 6:00-10:00 p.m. Chauvin Funeral Home
Funeral - Thursday, 11:00 a.m. St. Francis de Sales Cathedral
Wake - Thursday, 6:30-9:00 p.m. Chauvin Funeral Home
Funeral - Friday, 11:00 a.m. St. Francis de Sales Cathedral