Early morning wreck near Rockport kills three men
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Riley Holladay, 18, was raised to know the importance of saying goodbye. At 5:45 a.m. Wednesday he woke his mother, Janice Holladay, to hug her and give her a kiss before leaving for work.
"I always told my kids that you never walk out the door without saying goodbye because you never know when it will be the last time. He said, 'I love you Mom,' and gave me a kiss. That was a last touch with my kid, and it was a good one," Janice Holladay said.
Across Port Lavaca, Christopher Keith, 25, woke his grandmother, Helen Hernandez, to give her a hug and tell her he was leaving for work. She told him she loved him, and blessed him as he left the house.
Keith got into Holladay's Chevrolet Avalanche, and the two headed to Aransas Pass for work. They never arrived.
Just after 7 a.m., Holladay's truck drifted from the southbound lane on state Highway 35 north of Rockport and struck a Ford pickup travelling north. The vehicles collided at about 70 mph, and were engulfed in flames.
Holladay, Keith and Travis Threadgill, 40, of Rockport, were pronounced dead at the scene. Threadgill's family could not be reached for comments.
"Witnesses saw the wreck but couldn't get to the cars because of the fire," Department of Public Safety Trooper Rob Brown said.
Emergency services were on the scene in about 10 minutes. The Aransas County Sheriff's Department, DPS, Lamar and Fulton fire departments and Texas Department of Transportation responded to the wreck.
Diane Dupnik, Aransas County Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace, conducted the inquest and pronounced all three dead at the scene. Their bodies were burned beyond recognition, according to Brown. They were identified by interviewing family members, he added.
No autopsy will be performed, but toxicology tests will be performed on both drivers to see if drugs or alcohol were involved in the wreck, the trooper said.
Threadgill was on his way to work in Houston, Brown said. Holladay and Keith were on their way to a welding job in Aransas Pass.
It took three-and-a-half hours to clear the scene. Traffic was temporarily rerouted through Bayside until the wreck was cleared.
Holladay was listed at fault for driving in the wrong lane, Brown said.
Brown noted a number of onlookers were videotaping the wreck. Videos of the fatal crash were posted online before he left the scene.
"It's unusual that people were videoing it and putting it up on YouTube. I find that troubling," Brown said.
The deaths have come as a shock to both the Holladay and Keith families, but Keith's grandmother and Holladay's mother are focusing on what made these two men special.
Every day, Christopher Keith hugged his grandmother as soon as he got home from work.
"He was a beautiful person," she said.
He loved to laugh, and, as the eldest in the family, he tried to look out for his siblings, Helen Hernandez said.
Keith's 1-year-old daughter, Caydrie Keith, was the center of his world, said Keith's father, Steven Keith.
His grandmother said he loved being with her. Her eyes would light up when Caydrie saw him, and when he was with his daughter, there wasn't anyone else in the room.
He worked hard to provide for her and take care of her, his father said.
"His daughter was his life," Steven Keith said.
He stayed at his job with M's Contracting in Port Lavaca to make sure he could provide for her, his father said.
"I was so proud of him," Steven Keith said.
On Wednesday evening, Cadyrie was looking at her father's picture as Keith's family gathered to mourn.
"She know's something's wrong," Hernandez said.
Across town, Holladay's friends and family met at his family's house to remember him.
Holladay graduated from Calhoun High School last year, and he was looking forward to studying at Texas A&M-Galveston next year. He loved to go fishing and he loved the water, Janice Holladay said.
"His dream and love was fishing. He lived and breathed fishing," she said. After getting a boat last year, he was out on the water fishing with his younger brother, Connor Holladay, 16, his girlfriend, Taylor Cox and family and friends as often as he could, she said.
He never met a stranger, and always had a hug or a pat for his loved ones, Janice Holladay said.
"Riley lived a beautiful life. I thanked God constantly for him because of the kind things he did ... There's going to be some good that came out of this because he was too good a person, and I don't have that answer yet, but I know I will," Janice Holladay said.