3 Limestone County wreck victims to be laid to rest this weekend
LIMESTONE COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) – Three families, three schools, three communities broken-hearted.
A wreck late Sunday night claimed the lives of 11-year-old Richie Hernadez, 19-year-old Justin Allred and 16 year old Michael Swanner. We spoke to loved ones of all three victims to learn more about the young lives taken away entirely too soon.
Remembering Michael Swanner
It's the little things that Michael's older sister, Haley, is going to miss the most. “He was my fashion person," says Haley Woodard, Michael's sister. “He would tell me what shoes. He would tell me how I should fix by hair that day. He was a pretty boy."
They'll miss the bonding moments like sitting in a deer stand together, watching the world wake up. “When I shot I missed him with a bow, and [Michael] said, if you let me shoot, I would have got him," says John Woodard, Michael's brother-in-law.
They'll miss the precious moments, like when Michael was a big help with Haley's newest bundle of joy. “He’d be like Haley, I got some breakfast and the kids are already up and ready, they’ve already ate and he was 15 years old, ok? He was very mature. He would do anything for anybody," says Haley.
They'll miss the silly moments. “He would come up to anybody and when he would kiss them on the head, he would hold their head really tight and smell their hair. My kids hated that but now they’re going to miss it," says Haley.
Michael was best friends with Justin Allred, also a victim in the tragic head-on crash. They worked together installing gutters across Limestone County. His family says when the two weren't together, Michael was with his family.
“He was my best friend," says Haley.
“There’s definitely going to be a missing hole for a long time," says John.
The Sparkman High and Ardmore communities are experiencing that same void. “I did not know how much my brother was loved until something like this happened," says Haley.
Even though it's the little moments they'll all miss the most, it was one big gesture from the community that has warmed the hearts of family members during some of their darkest days. “If it wasn’t for everyone donating, he would not have a proper burial and I want to thank everybody for donating," says Haley.
Michael Swanner was laid to rest Friday afternoon.
Remembering Richie Hernandez
Richie Hernandez's family brought out dozens of pictures of the 11 year old, at all ages. Behind each snapshot, is a precious story. “He’s the kind of child that would ask you, could we go to the library? Could we go to the bookstore? You kind of never hesitated to say yes," says Mary Jane Rodriguez, Richie's cousin.
She says Richie absolutely loved sports. He played soccer, football and basketball. He just loved life. “He was a very happy kid, too. He would make you laugh. He had jokes. He would dance for you," she says.
He was also an 11 year old with wisdom beyond his years. “His dream was to build his mother a house. That was the reason he wanted to go to college," says Ezquiel Sanchez, Richie's godfather.
Sanchez says he has no doubt he would have achieved that, too, but never got the chance. Richie was riding with two of his relatives, after a full day of soccer, when they crashed painfully close to home. “They were literally a left turn away from coming home. They were on Reid Road and this is Ham and it was just a left turn," says Rodriguez.
Since Richie's passing, the family has set up a display of pictures and candles outside their home. Each night, they hold a Catholic Rosary Prayer Service, one that will continue nine days after his burial on Sunday.
It's through their faith that this family plans to overcome their grief. Their church community has helped every step of the way. “There are churches that we didn’t know we had friends in and they have come in and helped us. They’ve supported us. They’ve helped us out with funeral expenses," says Rodriguez.
The Tanner community has also loved their neighbor. “The teachers, all the kids have come here just to be with us," says Sanchez.
While there's nothing that can take away the pain of losing someone so young and full of life, they'll hold on extra hard to their pictures and remember the many laughs and smiles he provided. “Whenever he’d meet someone shy or quiet, he would make sure to never just leave that child alone. He’d say, hey, what’s your name?” she says.
Richie Hernandez will be laid to rest Sunday. There will be a public visitation starting at 10 am at the Limestone Chapel Funeral Home. The funeral mass will follow at 2 pm.
Remembering Justin Allred
Justin Allred was a recent graduate of Clements High School, where students are grieving the loss of an enjoyable and friendly young man. When faced with unexpected funeral costs, the family asked the community for help, and Clements High students answered in a big way.
Olivia Kyle and Destiny Kimbrough were devastated when they heard the news, but channeled their grief into something meaningful.
They sat down and brainstormed ways to raise money for the family, and decided to hold a bake sale and car wash. They were able to raise a few hundred dollars, and we're told the family would not have been able to afford funeral expenses without it. The girls didn't put any prices on the bake sale items or car wash tickets; they just relied on donations and the generosity of strangers.
"This really really nice dude came by, and he was towing a truck and just walked over there and handed Lisa $100. She asked do you need anything and he just said no and walked out," says Destiny Kimbrough.
"It's great to know he made such an impact on everybody's life and to make him feel better about knowing him," says Olivia Kyle.
There will be a public visitation for Justin Allred Saturday from noon until 2 pm at McConnell Memorial Chapel. The funeral will follow.