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N.J. community grieves loss of 4 football players in fatal SUV crash

Crews cleaned up the scene of a fatal SUV crash on the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey. Crews cleaned up the scene of a fatal SUV crash on the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey. (Ben Fogletto/ Press of Atlantic City)
Associated Press / August 22, 2011

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LINWOOD, N.J. - A New Jersey high school and its community were grappling yesterday with a hard reality: Four players on their local football team died and four others were injured in an SUV crash on the way to a team meal.

The driver, Casey Brenner, 17, of Northfield, apparently lost control of the vehicle late Saturday morning as it went around a crest on the Garden State Parkway and came upon heavy traffic, said Sergeant Julian Castellanos, a State Police spokesman.

The SUV overturned several times, ejecting two passengers, one of whom was struck by a passing car, Castellanos said.

All eight teens played for the Mainland Regional High School football team in Linwood. They ranged in age from 15 to 17.

The crash hung heavy over the community yesterday, where filling bleachers at the school’s Friday night games is part of life every fall. The Mustangs have won six state championships, including five since Bob Coffey became head coach in 1986.

Before the crash, perhaps the greatest trial for the team came when it had to forfeit four games last year for using a player who transferred from another school and suited up without all the proper paperwork in place.

The victims’ teammates planned to don game jerseys for the first time with their names stitched above the numbers to attend an evening vigil Sunday. And they expected to be together for funerals in the coming days.

Coffey said he would look for direction from his players but expected that practices would move ahead in some form. But two scrimmages scheduled for this week were canceled.

Brenner was killed, as were Dean Khoury, 15, of Linwood; and two 16-year-olds, Edgar Bozzi of Somers Point and Nicholas Conner of Northfield.

“All four of them were so happy, doing so well,’’ said Coffey, who lives a few blocks from the high school in a spacious house where his players often gather.

Superintendent Thomas Baruffi said the four who died were good students and athletes.

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