Gonzales class president 'always had a smile' (w/video)
Mark Anthony Perez was known - well known - and most people referred to him as Mr. President.
He loved it, Lauren Lopez said about her friend, lowering her voice to imitate him. "Yeah, man, that's me," she laughed.
"He was so goofy."
Perez died Thursday in an early-morning car wreck on U.S. Highway 183. Perez was driving north in Gonzales when he veered into the southbound lanes of traffic and struck a tractor-trailer, according to a Department of Public Safety crash report. The impact caused his car, a 1997 Pontiac Grand Prix, to split in half. He was pronounced dead at the scene at 12:57 a.m. by Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Judge Deidra D. Voigt.
The driver of the rig, Gerald Leblanc, 56, of Orange, lost control when he was hit and struck a 2011 Dodge Ram pickup driven by Stephen Harrist, 48, of Austin, according to the report. Harrist and Leblanc were not injured.
Darrin Butler, 18, of Victoria, said he learned about the fatality on Twitter in the morning.
"I just stopped," he said once he realized it was his friend everyone in his news feed was talking about. "It's really sad. Mark was like a brother to me."
Butler said he would always remember the great advice his friend gave him about conflict.
"He said, 'If someone is talking crap on you, they're hating on you. Don't let it get to you - don't care about what they say to you.'
"It's good to have a friend like that."
About 50 friends gathered about 10 p.m. Thursday at Pebble Beach in Riverside Park for a candlelight vigil to honor Perez. Through memories and tears, they mourned their friend's passing.
"Mark is one of the most loving people you could ever meet," Lopez, 17, of Victoria, said earlier Thursday. "He never judged you, and he gave the best advice."
In particular, Lopez said her friend would always lift her spirits about relationships, telling her to concentrate on school instead.
"He'd tell me, 'You need to hold your head up because you have your full life ahead of you; you don't need to concentrate on guys.'"
Amanda Ruiz Betancud said her son was a gift from God - with incredible aspirations in life. Perez graduated two weeks ago from Gonzales High School as the class president and received the Colby Glen Brown Memorial Scholarship. He planned to move to San Antonio and attend Northwest Vista College to study radiology.
"He had so many friends and family and was always the life of the party," Betancud said. "He always had a smile on his face and made jokes about everything."
Betancud said her son liked helping people most and wanted to work in sports medicine after college.
"He always wanted to be somebody in life," she said. "I wanted the best for him and to be more than I ever was or could be - and now heaven has gained another angel."