4 killed in Desert Center crash, including beloved HS coaches

4 killed in crash involving big rig near Desert Center Monday

DESERT CENTER, Calif. - Four people were killed Monday in a crash involving a big rig near Desert Center. The coroner's office identified the victims Tuesday morning and the California Highway Patrol released some updated details regarding the deadly crash. 

Crash Victims:

  • 30-year-old Matthew Hodges of Corona
  • 20-year-old Marissa Garnica of Murrieta
  • 21-year-old Jessica Giraldo of Murrieta 
  • 20-year-old Gabrielle Constante of Murrieta

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.

(Matt Hodges and Gabrielle Constante pictured here, photo courtesy of Legends FC Soccer)

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.''

The crash also caused about 120 gallons of fuel to spill from the truck onto the side of the road, the CHP said. A Sig-alert was issued at 4:20 p.m. where the road remained closed for several hours. 

This was the second deadly accident around the Coachella Valley on Monday. Authorities are searching for a man who ran from a deadly crash in La Quinta Monday morning. 

A gofundme page has been set up for a soccer scholarship fund in honor of Gabrielle Constante.

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