Car crash victims remembered as 'top notch'by Jessica Mador, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Friends and family are mourning the loss of three young people, including two University of Minnesota students, killed early Thursday by a suspected drunk driver near Madison, Wis. Police say they were changing a flat tire on the side of the road when another the driver rear-ended them.
The Wisconsin State Patrol identified the victims as Marcus Johnson, 19, of Milwaukee; Elysia Rapp, 20, of Racine, Wis.; and Wilfredo Ugarte, 23, of Puerto Rico.
Five people were in the car, on their way from the Twin Cities to Milwaukee, when one of the tires went flat. They pulled onto the median of Interstate 39/90 north of Madison.
As Ugarte and Johnson tried to fix the tire, the suspected drunk driver swerved onto the shoulder, hitting them.
Ugarte and Johnson were killed. Johnson's girlfriend Rapp, who was the driver of the car and was still inside it, died at University of Wisconsin Hospital. Another woman in the car was injured. Her name and condition have not been released.
The other survivor of the crash, Carlos Rios, was standing next to his friends outside the car when the crash happened.
"It was just horrific. My buddy Marcus' body was on top of the car ... and as soon as I seen that, I thought, oh my God, there's nothing I can do for him," said Rios.
Johnson and Ugarte were cheerleading recruits with the University of Minnesota Spirit Squad, after transferring from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. School officials say both were in the process of enrolling as students.
Head Spirit Squad coach Sam Owens said Ugarte and Johnson will be sorely missed.
"It's so sad because these young men were top notch," he said. "It's just really too bad that such a tragic thing happened."
Owens said the squad is planning something to memorialize the two cheerleaders in the coming days.
Teri Green, Johnson's former cheerleading coach from Nicolet High School in Glendale, Wis., said Johnson was the most talented student she'd worked with in a decade of coaching.
The squad plans to wear black armbands at their football game tonight in remembrance of Johnson, Green said. The bands will read "Rest in Peace, Marcus."
"Tonight will be a struggle to keep a smile on our faces when we all know that we lost a teammate and a friend," said Green. "He was such an inspiration to those girls, and such a mentor to them. They have lost somebody really close to them."
Johnson, who had also played football and wrestled, was the first boy at the school to go out for cheerleading. Green said he influenced a number of other boys to join the squad, too.
Elysia Rapp was also a cheerleader in high school. She was a a 2008 graduate of St. Catherine's High School in Racine, Wis.
Rapp was in her first year of interior design school at Century College in White Bear Lake.
"Cheerleading and stunt was definitely something that she always wanted to do," said her uncle, the Rev. Melvin Hargrove. "She was into art from when she was a little baby on up, as well. "I think the interior design was something that she settled on because art was a passion of hers."
A professor of Rapp's says she was a promising artist and student, who was already well-liked by her professors and classmates despite her short time in the new semester.
The 31-year-old driver of the car that hit the group is being held at the Dane County Jail in Madison, and is expected to face charges.
Officials say the case remains under investigation.
(MPR reporter Elizabeth Dunbar contributed to this report)
- All Things Considered, 10/08/2010, 5:55 p.m.