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Goliad stunned by deaths of 4 youths during holiday weekend

May 30, 2011 at 12:30 a.m.
Updated June 2, 2011 at 1:02 a.m.

The residential pool where a 2-year-old boy and a 3-year-old girl drowned Monday morning in Goliad.

The mood was somber Monday in Goliad after three youths from the small town died during Memorial Day weekend.

First, students were stunned to learn of the death of one of their own, Abril Villareal, 17, a Goliad High School junior.

Villareal was killed in a rollover accident six miles outside of Beeville on Sunday evening. A 17-year-old from Beeville also died in the crash.

Community members were still reeling from the news of Villareal's death when word spread of more tragedy Monday morning.

Emergency response teams responded at 9:01 a.m. to a drowning on Mockingbird Lane. A 2-year-old and a 3-year-old were unresponsive when the crews arrived at 9:13 a.m., Goliad County Sheriff Kirby Brumby said.

Their bodies were sent to Travis County for autopsies.

The fatal crash involving the teens occurred at 6:30 p.m. Sunday. A 2002 Ford Expedition was northbound at 6:30 p.m. on U.S. Highway 181 near County Road 603 when the driver, Juan Salazar, 17, of Beeville, veered too far to the left, touching the median, according to the Department of Public Safety in Corpus Christi.

Salazar told DPS Trooper Cram that he had fallen asleep and jerked to the right, overcorrecting when he woke up. Alcohol is not suspected as a factor in the crash, DPS reported.

The vehicle rolled five times to the right, ejecting five of the seven passengers in the vehicle; the driver and a front-seat passenger were the only ones wearing seat belts.

Villareal died at the scene. Benjamin Rodriguez, 17, of Beeville, died Monday evening in Corpus Christi. Neither was wearing a seat belt.

Passengers Elizabeth Dorantes, 16, and Kayla Warren, 16, were transported to a Corpus Christi hospital. Their conditions were unavailable.

The other passengers were taken to hospitals in Corpus Christi and Beeville.

Students were already mourning Villareal via Facebook on Sunday night, and students were crying in the hallway on Monday morning. Goliad students were in class on Memorial Day for a make-up day.

"I think my grade, we're actually taking it really hard," Mercedes Garcia, a close friend and fellow student, said.

Garcia described Villareal as a person who loved art and music, and was known for being outspoken and having a laugh that was known throughout the school.

"Everybody in school knew her laugh. It really hurt us that she wasn't there today," Garcia said. "Honestly, we don't believe it yet. It's not set yet, with us. We don't believe it yet."

Stevan Guerrero, 17, said he heard rumors of the accident late Sunday night.

"I didn't really believe it, though, not until I got to school and saw everybody crying in the hallways," Guerrero said.

The administration held an assembly on Monday morning to inform the students of Villareal's death, Guerrero said.

"We're all really sad," he said.

Sheriff Brumby declined to release the names of the two children who drowned because they were minors or to give any further details because the investigation was ongoing.

A Texas Ranger is assisting in the investigation, Brumby said. He made a point of noting that there was no suspicion of foul play at this time.

"There are all kinds of rumors going around, but we don't suspect anything. We're just being thorough," Brumby said.

Goliad resident Diana Smith shook her head as she pondered the deaths.

"It's such a terrible tragedy, and they're so young," she said. "It's even harder with kids just starting the summer and facing things like this."

Teresa Ybarbo sat on her porch across the street from the house where the children drowned. Ybarbo said she didn't really know the family, who only recently moved into the home. She glanced at the house, roped off with crime scene tape as sheriff's deputies continued their investigation.

"It's just really sad knowing there were two little ones involved," she said, shaking her head. "It's all so sad. They were all so young,"

Jay Harvey, the mayor of Goliad, said everyone in the town has been in shock about so much loss. Goliad has a population of about 2,000.

"It's a tragedy. We're a tight-knit community, and we're going to do our best to support the families and support each other. We have to go on from here and pick up the pieces, but it's a tough situation."

Corrected June 2, 2011.

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