Jessica De La Cruz
Students on Jan. 18 awoke to startling news that senior Joseph Rivera passed away in a car accident the night before.
“I thought it was a sick joke,” senior Zach Sallee said when he heard the news. “I didn’t want to believe it.”
News of Rivera’s passing spread fast via social networking sites. Almost immediately, students organized a candlelight vigil which was held that evening in the student parking lot. Roughly 300 students attended to offer their support.
Several efforts have been made by Bear Creek students to fundraise for the Rivera family. Sallee has been leading many of the fundraising efforts, including hosting a car wash and establishing a website for donations. The money received from the Juniors vs. Seniors boys volleyball game and snack bar during a basketball game will also go to the family.
“Anything I can do to help out his family,” Sallee said, noting that over $8,000 has been fundraised so far.
On February 1, a celebation of life took place for Rivera.
Rivera was known across campus as “JosephTooSmooth,” taking part in the morning announcements every day. In fact, he was a part of the speech and debate team.
Speech and debate coach Karen Minick says she felt “shocked” upon hearing the news.
“That’s not the kid you’d expect to go,” Minick said. “I say goodbye to students every year but not like this.”
Rivera was also an athlete and competed in football. The football team officially retired Rivera’s jersey, number 72. They also plan to wear helmets with the number 72 on it in honor of Rivera for next year’s season.
“He was a great guy and always smiled,” senior football teammate Jordan Ang said. “He was really positive.”
Sources say Rivera suffered from internal bleeding in his brain stemming from head injuries due to a high speed collision. Rivera wasn’t wearing a seatbelt during the crash and was ejected from the front seat when the driver lost control.
Motor vehicle collisions are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens. According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, in 2010, about 2,700 teens in the United States aged 16-19 were killed by traffic accidents.
Rivera’s friend, senior Rudy Blanco, said that he didn’t know what to do or say when he heard about the car accident.
“My heart just sank,” Blanco said. “It was just hard to accept the fact that he’s gone.”
Among the many memories Blanco and Joseph shared together, Blanco says his favorites include sleeping over at Joseph’s house, staying up late watching a lot of movies and eating whatever food they wanted to.
“Joseph was funny, loud, and always hungry,” Blanco said. “He was an organized perfectionist that made goals and accomplished them.”
Blanco says that most people will remember Joseph for the person he was, especially his courage and sense of humor.
“Joseph would want others to live life to the fullest, achieve goals, and always be toosmooth,” Blanco said.
Sallee says that he has taken a few lessons from Joseph’s tragic passing.
“Wear your seatbelt and drive safe,” Sallee said. “Because of those two simple mistakes, I lost the best brother a guy could ask for.”