New Mexico State Police said the accident occurred when the driver overcorrected and the vehicle rolled several times. Police said alcohol wasn't a factor, and it appears the driver was the only one in the car wearing a seatbelt.
Police said Manukainiu and Uhatafe were ejected from the vehicle and died at the scene. Vaenuku was transported from the scene, but was pronounced dead in an ambulance en route to a hospital.
“Everyone who knew Gaius is heartbroken today,” said Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham. “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.”
Vaenuku, who asked to be referred to by his middle name Keio as a Ute, was the 2012 District 6-5A Defensive Player of the Year in Texas as a senior at Trinity High School. He was also named first-team all-district and to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Super Team first-team defense. He had 72 tackles, seven sacks and 13 tackles for loss as a senior while helping Trinity High to the area championship. The son of Sam and Sela Vaenuku also leaves behind four siblings.
Uhatafe, a teammate of Vaenuku at Trinity HS, was a 2012 first-team 6-5A all-district selection and was named to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Super Team first-team offense and the Tarrant County Terrific 25. As a senior, he allowed zero sacks, had 42 pancakes and 117 knockdowns.