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2 Aggie cadets, driver die in U.S. 290 wreck

A weekend trip home ended in tragedy early Sunday for three Texas
A&M University Corps of Cadets freshmen who were involved in a fiery
head-on collision on U.S. 290.

Cesar Chavez High School graduate Amy Pacheco and Northbrook High School graduate Miguel Hernandez, both 18, died in the wreck, as did the driver who hit them, 21-year-old Katie Thomas of Deer Park. Corps member Francisco Campos, 18, also a Chavez graduate, was injured.

three corps members returned to Houston Friday to judge a high school
JROTC competition. They were trying to make it back to College Station
early Sunday morning for a cadet service project.

"We're reeling right now and coming together," said Eric Gil, A&M senior and Reserve Officer Training Corps commander. "We'll get through this. The Aggie family is strong."

sat in the front and Hernandez in the back of a white Ford Explorer as
Pacheco drove west on U.S. 290 at about 3:30 a.m. Sunday. A 2005 Ford
Mustang, driven by Thomas, was on the wrong side of the highway when it
collided head-on with the SUV.

Thomas' car spun clockwise and
stopped on the inside shoulder, according to the Harris County Sheriff's
Office. She died at the scene.

The Explorer caught fire and
continued westbound before stopping on the outside shoulder. Pacheco and
Hernandez were found dead, trapped inside. Campos escaped and was
treated at a hospital.

Rosalinda Campos, Francisco's mother, said her son is doing OK, directed by doctors to get bed rest.

three college freshmen had been active in their high school's Junior
ROTC battalions - Pacheco and Campos at Chavez High and Hernandez at
Northbrook High School in the Spring Branch ISD. They ran into friends
from their high school battalions when they volunteered over the weekend
at Houston Independent School District's Bluebonnet Drill Competition,
which included JROTC teams from 37 area schools.

Inspiring others

The 18 cadets from Texas A&M and the 17 from the University of Houston who volunteered are not just drill graders, said Cornell McGhee, JROTC director for HISD.

of the cadets' parents didn't graduate from college so when they see
cadets from UH and A&M, people from their neighborhoods, succeeding
in college, it inspires them to go, too," he said.

Among the hundreds of cadets, McGhee remembers Pacheco because she was an ambitious, but gracious leader.

told her mother she was excited to serve as a grader at the drill
meet," McGhee said. "When I saw her that morning, she had the biggest
smile on her face."

Dozens of friends and family gathered at Pacheco's home in northwest Houston on Sunday to comfort and support her parents.

Families supported

commander who led the teen's high school battalion sat next to her
mother. Many young cadets who drilled alongside Pacheco, Campos and
Hernandez called their instructors Sunday, wanting to know more about
what happened and how they could help the families.

In 2012, The Houston Endowment
selected Pacheco as one of its Jones Scholars, a four-year need-and
merit-scholarship program for Houston area high school graduates that
covers up to $16,000 of college costs over six academic years.

Friends and family also gathered at the home of Thomas' parents Sunday, recalling the gregarious girl who was studying at San Jacinto Community College.

"She always had the biggest prettiest smile on her face, and the cutest dimples," friend Sarah Bucsanyi said. "Never a dull moment when she was around, and everyone loved her because of her great, crazy personality."

Paige Becton said she saw Thomas every Sunday morning at Deer Park First Baptist Church. She remembered Thomas as someone who took every chance to spend time with friends and have fun living life to its fullest.

"She was hilarious and always had me laughing when we hung out," Becton said.

Sunday's crash is still under investigation by Harris County Sheriff's Office.



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