By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer
Two area teenagers died and three more were seriously injured around midnight Sunday as they drove through an open field at a high rate of speed south of Portales, officials said.
A New Mexico State Police news release said the pickup in which the teens were traveling crossed Roosevelt Road 20, became airborne and struck a three-foot dirt embankment on the south side of the road. The step-father of one of the victims said he was told the teens may have been chasing a rabbit or a coyote through the field.
Aaron LaRue, 17, of Clovis and Dathan Garcia, 17, of Tucumcari, were killed.
The driver of the truck, Travis Belcher, 17, was transported to Covenant Medical Center in Lubbock where he was in fair condition on Sunday night, officials said. Passenger Joni Brakebill, 17, was transported to Clovis’ Plains Regional Medical Center in stable condition and passenger Layton Belcher was in critical condition Sunday night at Covenant.
Officials said LaRue and one other teen were in the bed of the truck when the accident occurred. State police said they were notified of the accident at 12:04 a.m.
A state police news release said alcohol may have been involved in the accident. Don Morgan, LaRue’s step-father, said a relative was on the scene as part of an emergency response to the accident. Morgan said the relative confirmed there was alcohol at the scene, but officials had not determined if anyone in the pickup had been drinking.
“All we know is that there was alcohol in the vehicle,” Morgan said. “We don’t know who had what. We don’t know if anyone was impaired.”
Morgan said another truck was in the area, but he wasn’t sure where it was when the accident happened.
LaRue, a Dora High School student, died at the scene and Garcia died at Roosevelt General Hospital, the state police news release said.
Aaron LaRue’s father, Larry LaRue, said his son was an avid horse rider who participated in high school and amateur rodeos.
“He was a kid that had a heart of gold. He would have given the shirt off his back to any of his friends,” Larry LaRue said. “One thing that he loved in this world was horses.”
His mother, Donna Morgan, inspired Aaron to begin riding when he was 3.
“We would go off riding and just talk and talk and talk about anything,” she said. “We just had a lot of nice times together.”
Bradley West, a friend of Aaron’s, said they did everything together and LaRue taught him everything he knows about breaking horses.
Friends and teachers of Garcia said he was a spectacular athlete and competitor on the football field, basketball court and in the rodeo arena.
“If it was rodeo or football or basketball, he wanted to win and he was one of those kids who would lead and the other kids would follow him,” said Billy Burns, football and basketball coach at Logan schools, where Garcia was a student. “He was well known, well respected. He had an ability to make people laugh, and he had an infectious laugh.”
Jerry Franklin, an agriculture teacher at Logan and sponsor of the Logan chapter of Future Farmers of America, agreed Garcia was a good leader.
“He was a young man who really enjoyed life and always had a grin,” Franklin said. “He always made your classroom a little bit brighter. He will really be missed in our school and our ag program.”
Carolyn Franklin, superintendent of Logan schools, said she plans to bring in counselors for the student body today.
Layton Belcher graduated from Dora High School in 2003. Travis Belcher is still a student at Dora High School. Brakebill attends Portales High School.