JOSHUA TREE, Calif. -

Friends describe First Lt. Todd Lorell as "smart and strong" -- and someone who loved being a Marine.

But a bright future suddenly came to an end Wednesday morning when Lt. Lorell was killed in a crash on Highway 62 in Joshua Tree.

It was a head-on collision with a semi-truck just before 3 a.m.

The CHP says the Marine was heading west when he veered into oncoming traffic and slammed into the semi.

Lorell died at the scene. The 50-year-old truck driver went to Hi-Desert Medical Center and is expected to be fine.

The 24-year-old Marine was from Santa Clara County and graduated from USC where he played rugby.

A frat buddy said Lorell was very loyal to friends -- now stunned by his death.

"Within all hearing the news, there were about 40 of us who met up at a friend's house in Santa Monica and spent the night supporting one another and thinking of all the good memories we have of him," said Cameron Kay, a college roommate of Lorell's.

Those friends had been planning a going-away party for Lorell, who was set to be deployed to Afghanistan next month.

"It was his duty. He had by all means made a conscientious and proud decision to join the Marine Corp," said Kay.

The cause of the accident is unclear. The CHP is looking into whether Lt. Lorell fell asleep at the wheel.