Coach in ‘disbelief' after learning 2 former students among 4 killed in crash
4 young people from Jacksonville were grads of Sandalwood, Mandarin high schools
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville community is mourning the loss of four young adults, who were graduates of Sandalwood and Mandarin high schools, after a car crash over the weekend in Gilchrist County.
Late Saturday afternoon, the Florida Highway Patrol said, a Chevrolet Impala collided with a Ford Explorer at the intersection of U.S. 129 and County Road 340 in the town of Bell.
Four people riding in the Impala -- 18-year-old Cameron Bell, 19-year-old Isabella Garcia, 20-year-old Alysia Littlejohn and 21-year-old Hayden Raulerson -- died in the crash, troopers said. None of the occupants of the Impala were wearing seat belts, according to the FHP report.
Raulerson was a student at the University of North Florida and a member of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity. The university's office of Greek life said Raulerson's fraternity brothers are distraught and still coming to terms with what happened.
The UNF student body has been rocked by the tragic accident, and so have people who knew some of the victims for years.
Wrestling coach Johan Olarte told News4Jax on Monday that he was visiting family in South Florida when he got a call he never expected early Sunday. Olarte learned that Raulerson and Bell, who he coached on the wrestling team at Sandalwood High School, had been killed in a crash.
Olarte said he got the sad news from a victim's brother.
"His voice seemed distraught and I thought he was laughing, at first, because his voice was broken. And he told me the news and I was kind of taken aback at first. He had to repeat it two or three times and, by the third time, it really hit me," Olarte said. "I was in a form of disbelief. I still am. I drove back yesterday and I was just in silence. I drove six hours with no radio, no nothing. All I did was think about Cameron and Hayden -- praying for the families, praying for the parents."
Troopers said a fifth person in the Impala, 20-year-old Blake Delapaz, was taken to UF Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville in critical condition. Olarte also coached Delapaz when he a student on the Sandalwood High wrestling team.
"They were great, great guys," Olarte said. "I just thought of when I started coaching them and what they would become. It just hit me. I was so proud of them and I just wish I could've told them again."
Olarte described his former students as outstanding young men with bright futures. He said he's still working to grasp what happened.
"I don't believe it," he said. "It just hasn't hit me yet and, when it does, it's kind of in spurts where I just wish I could have talked to them one more time."
All of the occupants in the Impala went to Sandalwood High, except for Littlejohn who went to Mandarin High School. Olarte said the loss of the young adults is heart-wrenching for everyone who knew them.
“You work hard with the young men and you set a tone and you tell them, 'You can do great things.' And they believed. They bought in. They worked their butts off. They did the right things, and they had so many things going for them," the coach said. "It’s heartbreaking.”
The Highway Patrol continues to investigate what factors led to the crash. The FHP report said it is unclear who was driving the Impala.
Troopers said the driver of the SUV was the only one in her car and was hospitalized with serious injuries.
A vigil for Raulerson is planned for 8 p.m. June 18 on the UNF campus.
A GoFundMe page has been set up to help Bell's family with funeral expenses.
Copyright 2018 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.