COLLEGE STATION Texas A&M officials are confirming the death of redshirt freshman football player Polo Manukainiu.
According to A&M officials citing New Mexico State Police, five people were in an SUV Monday night travelling on US 550 north of the village of Cuba, which is northwest of Albuquerque. The vehicle went off the road shortly before 7:00 p.m. Mountain Time, overcorrected and rolled multiple times.
Manukainiu, a 19-year-old defensive lineman who was a passenger, was among the dead, along with his cousin, Utah freshman football player Gaius Vaenuku, and another cousin, Andrew Uhatafe. Manukainiu and Uhatafe were reportedly ejected in the crash. KSL-TV in Salt Lake City is reporting the family relationships of the three.
The vehicle's driver -- the only person believed by authorities to be wearing a seat belt -- and a fifth person in the vehicle were transported to a local hospital with what were described as minor injuries.
“We lost a terrific young man,” Texas A&M head football coach Kevin Sumlin said of Manukainiu in a statement Tuesday. “Polo was loved by his teammates and coaches. Anyone who came in contact with him was struck by his sense of humor and smile. My heart aches for his mom and family members.”
Euless Trinity High School posted the following on their website:
"As we mourn the loss of three members of our Trinity family, we invite you to use this page as a place to share thoughts about Gaius Vaenuku (THS Class of 2013), Polo Manukainiu (THS Class of 2012), and Lolo Uhatafe (Euless Junior High student), along with support for Salesi Uhatafe (THS Class of 2013). All messages must be approved before they will appear, but we look forward to posting as many comments as possible."
Manukainiu sat out his first season as an Aggie but was expected to play in the coming season. He was a Euless Trinity High School graduate who helped lead the Trojans to an undefeated regular season as a senior.
According to his Aggie Athletics bio, he was rated a four-star prospect by ESPN and 247sports.com coming out of high school.
Manukainiu was a recreation, parks and tourism sciences major.
At 12:32 p.m. Monday, Polo sent his last message on Twitter noting he was about to travel.
22 hour drive back to Texas on no sleep. Oh my ��— Polo Manukainiu (@ManukainiuPolo) July 29, 2013
This is the second Texas A&M football player to be killed in a car accident in the past two years. Joey Villavisencio, 22, died near Normangee on his way home in December 2011.
The following press release was issued by New Mexico State Police:
Sandoval County- On Monday, July 29, 2013 at 6:52 p.m.; New Mexico State Police Officers were dispatched to a single vehicle roll over on US 550, mile post 85. As a result of this crash, three subjects were declared deceased upon arrival of Officers.
Based on the preliminary investigation, it appears as if the vehicle was traveling southbound on US 550. The driver, Siaosi Uhatafe (18) of Euless, Texas was traveling south and drifted off the road on the passenger side. Mr. Uhatafe over corrected back to the right, causing the vehicle to lose control and roll several times. The group was traveling back to Texas from Salt Lake City Utah.
Two of the passengers were ejected from the vehicle, while the third stayed lodged in the vehicle. The three deceased subjects have been identified. They are: Andrew Uhatafe (13) of Euless TX; Gaius Vaenuku (18) of Euless TX; and Polo Manukainiu (19) of Euless TX.
Mr. Siaosi Uhatafe (driver) and Salesi Uhatafe Sr. (father) were transported to the San Juan Medical Center in Farmington, New Mexico with minor injuries. Siaosi Uhatafe, the driver of the vehicle, was the only subject utilizing his seatbelt.
Furthermore, it appears as if the three deceased victims were not utilizing their seatbelts.
Our thoughts go out to the victims’ families during this tragic event.