Gilroy loses vibrant young athlete

Andrel Gaines, 19, died Nov. 18 - 12 days after he suffered

Andrel Gaines, a freshman basketball player at Gavilan College
whose fight for life…
Andrel Gaines, a freshman basketball player at Gavilan College whose fight for life following a Nov. 6 car accident spurred thousands of prayers and ardent messages of support, died Friday morning at a San Francisco hospital, school officials said.

Gaines, 19, had been on life support at San Francisco General Hospital since the early morning wreck, which happened on U.S. Highway 101 near Millbrae, south of San Francisco.

As word broke Friday that Gaines had passed, friends posted their stunned, saddened reactions online, while some mustered grin-inducing memories of their bright-eyed classmate, co-worker, companion and teammate.

“He was always a happy person. He had the biggest smile on his face all the time,” said Jessica Torres, 19, who worked with Gaines at the Juicy Couture clothing store in Gilroy. “You would know Andrel was there because there was a different energy in the room. He was very considerate of others. He was just always a loving spirit. And he was glowing all the time.”

A family friend said memorial service arrangements – through Habing Family Funeral Home – had not been finalized as of early Monday evening. The friend also said that Gaines’ maternal grandmother died Saturday.

An online donation site has raised almost $5,000 for Gaines’ family to help cover expenses since the horrific accident.

Gaines, who attended elementary school in Gilroy, transferred from Silver Creek High School in San Jose to Gilroy High School his junior year. A 2010 GHS graduate, he was an all-league selection for the Tri-County Athletic League his senior year with the Mustangs.

Gavilan men’s basketball coach Tito Addison praised Gaines for his talent and the way he seemed to spark the best from those around him. He had been excited about watching Gaines contribute to Gavilan’s program right away.

“Sometimes when you recruit, if you get the right kid, other kids want to play with them. And if you get that one kid that everyone wants to be around, they will come,” Addison said. “Andrel was that kid for us. Everybody loved to play with him. He was very unselfish and very talented. Even out of high school he had a lot of room to grow but he had such great potential, and he was reaching that at Gavilan.”

Gaines, who suffered severe brain trauma, had been in a medically induced coma since the accident. Scores visited him at his San Francisco hospital room, including some who formed prayer groups in an adjacent hallway.

Over the last two weeks, Gaines’ friends and family flooded social media outlets Twitter and Facebook, inciting thousands of responses through the “#PrayForAndrel” movement and an online prayer chain that has grown to almost 8,000 members. Some celebrities and professional athletes even re-tweeted the emotional pleas. Friends also organized a “prayer picnic” for Gaines at Gilroy High School Thursday afternoon, less than 24 hours before he died. Back on Nov. 10, a student-run effort called “Grooving for Gaines” raised $2,000 during the GHS-Christopher High football game.

Gavilan College Athletic Director Ron Hannon said the flurry of support is proof of the positive influence Gaines had on those who came to know him.

“That only happens when somebody has an unbelievable impact on everyone,” Hannon said. “He wasn’t just a basketball player, he was a student-athlete who was appreciated by all of our student-athletes, and he, in turn, appreciated everyone else. So, obviously it’s a sad day for Rams athletics as well.”

By 2 p.m. Friday, friends began re-tweeting a new message – “#RIPAndrel” – and a tribute video uploaded to YouTube features photos of Gaines as a small child to an all-star point guard. The images underscore Gaines’ wealth of friends, and showed home-made ribbons, shoes and bracelets bearing his name. The video is available on the Dispatch’s website.

Billy Heard and Davontea Johnson, Gaines’ teammates, were also injured in the wreck. Heard, who was driving, also suffered brain trauma and remains at the hospital, said friend Nikole Sands, who has visited Heard nearly every day since the accident.

Heard is expected to be moved to a Bay Area rehabilitation center this week, Sands said.

Johnson, back in Gilroy recovering from a broken leg, was present on the Rams’ bench during their season-opening game against Merced College Nov. 16. Johnson told the Dispatch following the game he wasn’t ready to talk about the recent, life-altering events.

The Rams’ Saturday game against Cañada College was postponed until Dec. 6.

“Right now, we will keep the rest of the schedule intact. And then we will find out when the service is, and we anticipate being involved in that, if that’s what the family chooses to do,” Hannon said Friday. “So we’ll deal with the other games on our schedule as other things develop.”

Getting through the rest of the season, however, isn’t likely to be an easy task, Coach Addison said.

“During our practice time we talked about things, and it gave the guys a chance to air things out, and I told them before we had played the last game that things were going to get harder before they got better,” he said. “And unfortunately, today (Friday) was a day that we had to take another step toward getting closure with this, which will of course take quite a bit of time.”

The players and two female passengers – Denise Bravo, 18, of San Juan Bautista and Razelyn Ambrocio, 21, of Santa Cruz – were heading south on U.S. Highway 101 around 1:30 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 6 after an evening at an 18-and-over San Francisco club called City Nights when Heard swerved to avoid an object in the road and crashed the black Cadillac CTS sedan into the center median, Bravo said.

As the car rested in the fast lane, Dennis Leffew, 43, of San Jose, crashed into the Cadillac with his red Nissan 300ZX, according to the California Highway Patrol. All six individuals were hospitalized, and both drivers were arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.

A toxicology report obtained Monday by the Dispatch, however, shows Heard was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the accident.

The CHP has not commented on toxicology results related to the crashes, which remain under investigation.

Sports Editor Josh Weaver contributed to this report.

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