Texas A&M defensive lineman Polo Manukainiu, freshman Utah defensive end Gaius Vaenuku, and fellow passenger Lolo Uhatafe died in a car accident in New Mexico early Tuesday morning, according to New Mexico State Police.
Freshman Utes guard Salesi Uhatafe (the driver and Manukainiu's stepbrother) was reportedly airlifted to Texas and is in critical condition, according to multiple outlets based in Utah. Uhatafe's father also survived the accident, according to Utah. (Update: both Uhatafes are out of the hospital now.)
More details, from Texas A&M's confirmation of the news:
According to the report from the New Mexico State Police, he was a passenger in a 2002 Toyota Sequoia traveling south on U.S. 550 and the vehicle drifted off of the roadway and the driver over corrected and the vehicle rolled several times. Manukainiu and another passenger, Andrew Uhatafe, were ejected from the vehicle and deceased at the scene. Gaius Vaenuku, an incoming member of the Utah football team, was transported from the scene of the accident but was pronounced deceased in the ambulance. The driver and a fifth passenger were transported to San Juan Regional Hospital after sustaining minor injuries. Alcohol was not involved and it appears the driver was the only one wearing a seat belt..
According to one of Manukainiu's final tweets, the players were traveling home from Utah, a nearly 1,300-mile trip. Police cited "driver inattention or fatigue" as a contributing factor.
22 hour drive back to Texas on no sleep. Oh my 😳— Polo Manukainiu (@ManukainiuPolo) July 29, 2013
Manukainiu redshirted in 2012 after his career as a two-time All-District 6-5A high school defensive end. The 6'5 recreation, parks, and tourism sciences major was expected to make contributions on the field in 2013.
Vaenuku signed with Utah back in February, joining Trinity teammate Uhatafe as future Utes in the 2013 recruiting class. Vaenuku was named first-team all-district following his 2011 high school season.
The players' teammates and coaches have begun sharing their reactions.
From Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin:
We lost a terrific young man. Polo was loved by his teammates and coaches. Anyone who came in contact with him was struck by his sense of humor and smile. My heart aches for his mom and family members.
From Utes coach Kyle Whittingham:
Everyone who knew Gaius is heartbroken today. He was the kind of young man who lit up a room and his future in football and life had no boundaries. Words cannot express our devastation over the loss of Gaius. This is a sad day not only for University of Utah football, but for everyone whose lives Gaius crossed or would have crossed but for this tragedy. Our hearts go out to Gaius' and Salesi's families, and to the Texas A&M coaches and players. We are praying for the speedy recovery of Salesi and his father.
Heart hurts waking up to news about Polo.. I think I speak for everyone on our team when I say we love you brother you will be missed— Johnny Manziel (@JManziel2) July 30, 2013
Ill never forget my first roommate rest easy @ManukainiuPol ima miss you big homie 🙏😞— ★=Williams (@twll3) July 30, 2013
R.I.P. Polo smh another one gone too soon— Steven Terrell (@SdotTerrell) July 30, 2013
I still can't even believe this. My heart just feels empty right now. Rest in Peace Polo. We love you big dog.— Matt Davis (@That_DavisGuy) July 30, 2013
What tragic news today. Thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved.— Brian Johnson (@BDJohnson3) July 30, 2013
bro was just talking about going on a mission— Marc Pouvave (@BodyMARCedUp) July 30, 2013
Life can end so fast— Marc Pouvave (@BodyMARCedUp) July 30, 2013
Woke up this morning truly heartbroken...i can't believe it man. 😔 I was just with you in the locker room on Friday talkin bout camp...— Forrest Valayka (@Asiata54) July 30, 2013
On-field rivals are now sharing condolences as well:
My condolences and blessings to all the families associated with the tragic loss of lives within the Utah football program.— Coach Mendenhall (@BYU_Football) July 30, 2013
My thoughts and prayers go out to Polo's family and friends. An incredible young man gone way too soon. RIP Polo.— Kliff Kingsbury (@TTUKingsbury) July 30, 2013
Prayers to the family of Polo Manukainiu and also the FB programs at Texas A&M & Euless Trinity-May God give you peace in your time of loss— Herb Hand (@CoachHand) July 30, 2013
Prayers to our friends at Euless Trinity, A&M, and Utah for the tragic deaths of Polo Mainukanu and Gaius Vaenuku. Sad day. @LDBellFootball— Mark Smith (@coachmarksmith) July 30, 2013
We'll have more as it's available.