Francois Hagenimana, a 24-year-old native of Rwanda whose goal for early 2014 was to become a U.S. Navy SEAL, was frolicking on a Florida beach with the rest of the Centerville football team and staff Saturday before their flight back to Dayton following a last-second victory in Naples, Fla., Friday night.
Just 24 hours later, the team gathered at the CHS stadium to deal with news of his death early Sunday in a two-car crash on Interstate 70 near Springfield that also killed the driver of the other car, Jason Fricke, 28, a graduate of Wright State University who was heading home to Westerville.
The Ohio State Highway Patrol is trying to figure out what caused Hagenimana to drive for about 10 miles in the wrong direction on I-70. Hagenimana drove in the eastbound lanes on I-70 in a Toyota Scion when his vehicle collided head-on with a Honda Accord driven by Fricke around 3:09 a.m., according to the Patrol.
Officials at the Clark County Coroner’s Office estimated the preliminary cause of death for both men was blunt force trauma.
“You can only imagine both vehicles going around the speed limit of 70 mph and when you get a head-on crash with those kind of speeds it’s usually pretty bad,” said Lt. Matthew Cleaveland of the state patrol.
At least seven people called 911 reporting that they had seen a car going the wrong way on I-70 with its brights on, travelling an estimated 75 miles per hour. “There was a car on the wrong side of the highway going really fast and it almost hit me,” one fearful caller said.
“Me, a semi and another car in front of us, we all just swerved and missed it by like an inch,” another 911 caller said.
It was unknown if alcohol was a factor in the crash, according to the patrol.
A 2008 graduate of Centerville, where he played football, wrestled and ran track, he returned to the school as an assistant coach this year.
“The guys took it really hard,” said head Centerville coach Ron Ullery, who coached Hagenimana and hired him to work with the team’s defensive cornerbacks.
“They are having to deal with something many of them have never dealt with before.”
Hagenimana earned a football scholarship to Ashland University, where he received his degree in the spring.
“He was a good player who worked hard for everything he got. He didn’t want anything handed to him,” Ullery said. “He had enlisted in the Navy and was training hard so he could become a SEAL, but he planned to stay with us through the end of this season.”
CHS central unit principal Jon Wesney remembered “Francois’ smile. He always had a smile, the kind of smile that made others enjoy being around him. He was a very good student here.”
The school had grief counselors available for students, staff and coaches on Monday, Wesney said.
Centerville math teach Alan Bair, who was Hagenimana’s wrestling coach, said, “Francois’ family fled Rwanda due to the genocide. He came to this country with very few possessions.”
Bair said Francois was an employee at KK Motorcycle Supply in Dayton, which is accepting donations on behalf of his family to help cover funeral expenses.
Donations may be made at any PNC Bank branch, to account number 42-0608-2929, or mailed to: Francois Hagenimana Family Fund, c/o KK Motorcycle Supply, P.O. Box 45, Dayton, OH 45401.
Ullery said Francois has a brother and sister. “His mother is traveling back home her after visiting with his sister.”