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4 Killed in Crash Near Desert Center, Including Beloved High School Coaches

Grief counselors were posted Tuesday at a Chino Hills high school to help students and staff cope with the loss of two soccer coaches who were among four people killed in a head-on crash between a car and a big rig near Desert Center.

The collision was reported at 3:14 p.m. Monday on Highway 177, 19 miles north of Desert Center.

According to the California Highway Patrol, Matthew Hodges was traveling southbound on Highway 177 at an undetermined rate of speed when his 2012 Toyota Corolla veered into the northbound lane "for reasons that are still under investigation" and collided head-on with a 1999 Freightliner.

Hodges, 30, of Corona, was airlifted to Desert Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead, according to CHP Officer Ramon Perez.

Three young women from Murrieta were pronounced dead at the scene. They were identified this morning as Marissa Garnica, 20; Jessica Giraldo, 21; and Gabrielle Constante, 20.

Hodges was the girls' varsity head soccer coach at Ruben S. Ayala High School in Chino Hills, and Constante was the team's assistant coach. Their deaths came two days before the school's scheduled Wednesday afternoon graduation ceremony in Ontario.

School officials mourned their loss in a statement released Tuesday.

"Mr. Hodges coached our girls for four years, while Ms. Constante had just finished her second year at Ayala. We ask that you keep them and their families in your thoughts," the statement read.

School officials said grief counselors were on hand to speak to anyone needing help coping with the deaths, and a private vigil for students was held during lunch.

The Glendora-based youth soccer program Legends Football Club also discussed the coaches' deaths in a Facebook post.

"In the late afternoon of May 29th, the Legends Family was dealt life-altering news when two of our coaches, Gaby Constante and Matt Hodges, were involved in a major car accident that resulted in their passing later this evening. The entire Legends staff is in mourning," the post reads.

Los Alamitos' soccer training facility, Deft Touch Soccer Center, also expressed condolences online.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Hodges and Constante families and all the young athletes that their passion and guidance touched both on and off the field. RIP Matt and Gabby!''

The big-rig driver, 55-year-old Phillip Barnnett of Afton, Oklahoma, was uninjured in the crash, according to the CHP. The trucker and Hodges were both wearing seatbelts, Perez said, but the investigation was ongoing into whether the three women were buckled in.

Perez said that at this point in the investigation, "there is no reason to believe alcohol and/or drugs played a factor with either driver." 

If you would like to donate to a GoFundMe account set up to help Gaby Constante, you may do so here. Note that GoFundMe deducts 7.9 percent of all funds raised in the form of platform and payment processing charges.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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