April 1, 2014

Hundreds mourn two Lowcountry students killed in car crash

Hundreds packed a Hilton Head Island church Monday for an emotional joint funeral memorializing two Hilton Head High School students killed in a car crash early Friday.

Hundreds packed a Hilton Head Island church Monday for an emotional joint funeral memorializing two Hilton Head High School students killed in a car crash early Friday.

Family, friends, fellow students and teammates packed Holy Family Catholic Church to pay final respects to Cory Rocha, 18, and Cesar Herrera, 17. Many also attended an open-casket viewing in the church just before the funeral.

Neither teen's family spoke during the 80-minute ceremony, conducted almost entirely in Spanish. At the request of the families, the majority of the crowd wore white, said Herrera's co-worker and classmate Andrew Kirby.

Kirby said Herrera trained him when he started work at Pomodori, an Italian restaurant on Hilton Head. Kirby said the late teen worked to help out his large family.

"I wish someone could've gone up and talked about what Cesar was like and who he truly was," Kirby said. "They were two great individuals ... it's just sad."

Some funeral-goers wore blue and purple ribbons given out to people who made donations outside the church. Members of the Hilton Head Storm Academy soccer team, for which Herrera played, wore the academy's shirts. One of the shirts was draped over Herrera's casket during the funeral.

Two other teens --Ramon Morales, 17, and Michelle Alvares, 16 -- were injured in the crash that killed Rocha and Herrera. The four were on their way to school Friday when a 2011 Ford Focus driven by Morales struck a culvert, went airborne and hit a tree outside the Airport Office Park on Dillon Road, according to the S.C. Highway Patrol.

No information about Morales and Alvares' condition was available Monday. The two were airlifted to Savannah's Memorial University Medical Center with life-threatening injuries. A spokesman for the hospital said Monday it was against hospital policy to release the condition of minors.

Kirby, however, said Morales and Alvares -- Herrera's girlfriend -- suffered serious injuries but were starting to improve.

None of the four teens was wearing a seat belt in the crash, according to the Highway Patrol. Morales, Rocha and Herrera were ejected from the car, while Alvares had to be extricated from the vehicle before being airlifted.

An investigation by the Highway Patrol is ongoing, Senior Trooper Hannah Wimberly said. On Monday, the Highway Patrol's Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team was out remapping the crash scene. A more complete report of the events is expected to be completed later this week, she said.

Since the crash, the community has shown an outpouring of support for the families of Herrera and Rocha. Hundreds attended a vigil at the school Friday evening to mourn the teens' loss and pray for the recovery of Alvares and Morales. At the crash site, a makeshift memorial of prayer candles, photographs and bouquets of flowers sprung up at the base of the tree that was struck by the car.

Also, to help with the families' funeral costs, 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.

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