Texas A&M said Tuesday that redshirt freshman Polo Manukainiu and a friend who was joining the Utah football team this fall were among three people killed in a single-car rollover crash in the high desert of northern New Mexico, stunning both schools just days before fall practices begin.
Manukainiu, a 19-year-old defensive lineman for the Aggies, and 18-year-old Utah recruit Gaius “Keio” Vaenuku were killed, officials from both schools said.
The wreck happened Monday evening on U.S. 550 near Cuba, about 85 miles north of Albuquerque, apparently as the group was returning to suburban Dallas, where three of them had ties to prep football power Trinity High School in Euless.
New Mexico state police said Manukainiu and Vaenuku were passengers in a southbound 2002 Toyota Sequoia that drifted off the sagebrush-lined highway, according to Texas A&M. The driver overcorrected and the vehicle rolled several times.
Alcohol wasn’t involved and it appeared that the driver, who was not immediately identified, was the only one wearing a seatbelt, authorities said.
Manukainiu and passenger Andrew “Lolo” Uhatafe died at the scene after they were ejected from the vehicle, the Texas A&M statement said. Vaenuku was pronounced dead in an ambulance that responded to the accident.
Survivors included Salesi Uhatafe and his son Salesi Uhatafe Jr., an incoming freshman football player for Utah and a stepbrother of Manukainiu. Both suffered only minor injuries, authorities said.
Manukainiu had apparently traveled to Salt Lake City for some relaxation, tweeting Sunday: “It’s always good to get away from the Texas Heat for the weekend. Utah got that breezeeeeeee.”
On Monday, hours before the accident, he tweeted: “22 hour drive back to Texas on no sleep. Oh my.”
Manukainiu played football at Trinity High School in Euless, west of Dallas, and was part of the Aggies’ 2012 signing class. He was a recreation, parks and tourism science major, the school said, and is survived by his mother, Lima Uhatafe of Euless.
“We lost a terrific young man,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. “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.”
Texas A&M finished last season ranked No. 5 after an 11-2 season, their first in the Southeastern Conference. They were led by quarterback Johnny Manziel, who became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, and are expected to be highly ranked again this year.