Three high school students deceased in EAC van rollover

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Three students were declared deceased at the scene of an EAC van rollover Friday night.

By Jon Johnson

PIMA – Three area high school students were declared deceased Friday night at the scene of a single-vehicle Eastern Arizona College (EAC) transport van rollover on U.S. Highway 70 just west of Pima.

Pima student, Mason Gann, 16, Thatcher student, Kade Nelson, 16, and Duncan student, Emmett Darnell, 17, were deceased at the scene.

The van was reportedly returning to the Gila Valley with automotive class students through the Gila Institute For Technology (GIFT) program after attending a drag racing event. The automotive classes are held at EAC and are taken by area high school students through the GIFT program. A second EAC van following behind with other students was not damaged.

According to a statement from the Arizona Department of Public Safety, the eastbound van crossed into the westbound lane and subsequently rolled. The van was carrying seven area high school students and one EAC student and was driven by an adult male.  

At about 10:01 p.m., Graham County Dispatch alerted first responders to the scene of the rollover near milepost 327, which is about one mile west of the Pima town limits.  

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Pima Fire and Rescue responded to the scene to assist.

According to a preliminary report from the Arizona Department of Public Safety, three students were ejected from the vehicle and were declared deceased at the scene, while another was airlifted initially to Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center (MGRMC). Ground ambulances transported the driver and four other students to the hospital for treatment as well. The driver and the five other students received non-life threatening injuries.

A truck cruise for Mason, Kade, and Emmett has been organized to take place today, Saturday, Feb. 22, from the Pima High School to Meg’s Place in Fort Thomas. The cruise is expected to start at 4 p.m., with Mason’s dad, Richie Gann, leading the convoy in Mason’s truck. Gann’s family lives in Fort Thomas but the children attend Pima schools.

The cause of the collision is still under investigation, but impairment does not appear to be a factor, according to the statement from DPS.

Nuttall’s Towing, of Safford, removed the damaged van, and the highway was reopened just before 1 a.m. Pima Fire and Rescue, Lifeline Ambulance, Arizona Department of Transportation, Safford and Pima Police departments, and Graham County Sheriff’s Office also assisted at the scene.

On Saturday, EAC President Todd Haynie released the following statement.

“The Eastern Arizona College (EAC) campus community mourns the tragic loss of three Gila Institute For Technology (GIFT) students and those injured in a rollover accident last night. We join the entire Gila Valley community in prayer for the families and friends of these students and send our heartfelt condolences to them.

As many in our community are aware, the three fatal victims in the collision are a 16-year-old male from Thatcher, a 16-year-old male from Ft. Thomas, and a 17-year-old male from Duncan. Because these students are minors, EAC will not release their names.

The health and welfare of our students, faculty, and staff are a priority to EAC. At this time, the cause of this incident is still under investigation and EAC is working with the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

We know this news is difficult to process and that it affects many members of our community. Anyone in need of immediate support is encouraged to contact EAC’s Counseling Department at (928) 651-2889. A 24-hour crisis hotline is also available at 1-866-495-6735. Additional resources will be available at area high schools.

EAC will continue to coordinate with the Arizona Department of Public Safety and local agencies and release information as it becomes available.”

EAC President Todd Haynie

This post was last updated at 3:25 p.m. to include the names of the deceased.  

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