Stephen Nolasco, 19, and Matthew Bennett, 18, both 2012 Sprayberry graduates, were killed in a fiery crash Sunday around 3:30 a.m. after Nolasco lost control of his 2001 Volvo S60 while driving north on Sandy Plains Road, according to Cobb Police.
For reasons unknown, he crossed into the southbound lanes, eventually hitting the large, brick Sprayberry Dental Associates sign in the 2600 block of Kinjac Drive, just one block north of the high school. The car erupted into flames.
Police said speed was a factor in the wreck. Both teens died at the scene.
These are the sixth and seventh accidental deaths of Sprayberry students, graduates or administrators since 2011.
Niki Grant, 19, was a friend and fellow graduate of Nolasco and Bennett. She, along with others, visited the scene of the crash Monday morning.
“It’s all just been so horrible,” she said of the continued tragedies. “It’s like we can’t catch a break.”
She personally remembered four other Sprayberry students or graduates dying in the last two years, along with former Athletic Director and Assistant Principal Tim Crunk, who died in June of a heart attack while running.
Grant also said she believed these deaths may be especially hard on Sprayberry 10th-grader Lidiane Carmo, whose older sister, Leticia Carmo, was one of five who died last January in a multi-car pile up outside Gainesville, Fla. She was a junior at Sprayberry last year.
Grant said Nolasco and Leticia Carmo were “very close” and that after Lidiane Carmo’s older sister died, the young man had formed a close friendship with the younger sister.
“He had just taken her under his wing,” Grant said. “I can’t imagine how tough this is on her right now.”
Sprayberry Principal John Kelly said counselors were available Monday at the school for any students or teachers needing grief support.
Grant said Lidiane Carmo will not be the only one missing the teenagers.
She and her friends were among more than two dozen people who came by the accident scene Monday morning to see the destruction and pay condolences to their friends.
Brenton Guishard, another 2012 Sprayberry graduate who visited the crash scene Monday, was especially close to Bennett.
The two met on the soccer field 11 years ago while competing on separate YMCA recreational teams and have been hanging out with the same group of friends they passionately called “The Crew” since middle school.
“We instantly connected,” Guishard said about their friendship. “His home was my home.”
Guishard learned about the accident around 6 a.m. Sunday and said he and his mother went to Bennett’s home to console the family at 7 a.m.
“We went to his home to comfort his mom,” Guishard said sadly.
In remembering his childhood friend, Guishard also said Bennett was into taking good care of himself and spent a lot of time at the gym.
“Anyone that knew Matt, knew he went to LA Fitness all the time,” he said.
The group couldn’t remember exactly what Bennett was studying at Georgia Perimeter College, where both teens were freshmen, but Guishard said he was interested in architectural design.
“I remember him saying that after college he wanted to design buildings … he could really draw, but not many people knew that about him,” he said.
In describing Nolasco, Guishard said he was “so genuine” and was always such a gentleman to the ladies.
Another 2012 graduate who could vouch for that first-hand was 18-year-old Katie Saldivar.
“He was such a flirt and was up for ‘Most Flirtatious’ last year but always so sweet and polite,” she said.
Saldivar also said Nolasco told her he was interested in possibly becoming a chemical engineer.
“Stephen was just so smart,” she said, as tears welled up in her eyes.
Nolasco was a big-time baseball fan as well and played baseball for a time at Sprayberry, his friends said.
“He loved baseball and was a big Braves fan,” Saldivar said. “I remember him saying that when he grew up he wanted a wife and kids, and his dream was that they could sit around on the couch and watch Braves’ games.”
The group of teens also joked about a memory of Nolasco walking around with a sign that read, “Free Hugs,” and his smile.
“It was the most gorgeous smile in the world,” Saldivar said. “He had pearl-white teeth and everyone that ever met him, if there’s one thing they’d remember, it was his smile. That and his laugh.”
The former Sprayberry students were not sure what the family has planned regarding funeral arrangements but said a vigil with close friends is planned for tonight at the crash site, and they believed the Sprayberry High administration was coordinating one for Wednesday night.
They also declined to release the names of each teen’s family members without permission.
Officer Mike Bowman with Cobb Police said the investigation is ongoing and that they are still interviewing people in reference to the crash, but anyone with information is asked to call (770) 499-3987.