James “JT” Murillo was on his way to his family’s cabin near Lake Almanor, prepared to work at a nearby market and experience life on his own before he started his freshman year of college.
The 17-year-old from Yolo County didn’t make it.
On his way to the cabin Sunday evening, Murillo was killed when his eastbound car crossed the center line on Highway 36 directly into the path of a pickup truck, according to a news release from the California Highway Patrol.
His brother, Brandon, said the family received a call from the CHP informing them of Murillo’s death as they drove toward Lake Almanor to look for him. The CHP was investigating the cause of the crash.
“He was just a great person and he loved everybody,” Brandon Murillo said. “He would do anything for anybody.”
The two occupants of the pickup truck, both from Red Bluff, suffered major injuries and were flown to a Chico hospital, according to the CHP. Officers pulled them from their burning vehicle just after the crash.
The driver will be in intensive care for a few more days, while the passenger has already been transferred out of the ICU but remains hospitalized, according to CHP spokesman Jay Bunyard. Both are expected to live.
A Saint Bernard dog traveling with them ran into the forest and has not been found, according to the CHP.
Brandon Murillo, 16, said his brother was driving to the family’s cabin on Sunday to meet his friend Gerardo Castro. The plan was for the two to work separate jobs while living together for the summer. Brandon Murillo said his father wanted his brother to experience life on his own before heading to California State University, Chico, in the fall.
When he reached the Sierra Nevada, JT Murillo sent a text to Castro, who was already at the cabin, letting his friend know that he was roughly an hour away. Two hours later, he still had not arrived.
Castro then sent a text message to Brandon Murillo saying his brother hadn’t shown up. Brandon Murillo and his father drove toward Lake Almanor to look for him but later received the call from the CHP.
JT Murillo graduated from Woodland Christian School just eight days earlier. He was a favorite among both students and teachers at the small school, Principal Justin Smith said.
“He brought so much life to our campus,” Smith said. “He was diligent and had a desire to learn. Teachers try to not have favorites, but it was so hard not to have JT be one of your favorite students.”
Murillo played baseball and basketball during his high school years, his brother said. He also was a good student who took a full slate of Advanced Placement and honors classes. Brandon Murillo said his brother had aspirations of becoming a prosecutor or a sports agent.
Murillo would stay up late to watch the entirety of Sacramento Kings games – even if they were losing by a huge margin, his brother said. That’s why it was particularly special for the family when the Sacramento Kings and team broadcaster Grant Napear sent Twitter messages of support for the family on Monday.
“Everyone knew how much of a fan he was,” Brandon Murillo said. “It touched everyone in my family that they put something up in honor of him.”
In Woodland, the school held a vigil Monday night for Murillo at the school’s baseball field. Smith estimated that 400 to 500 people showed up. While he said the mood was somber for some of the service, many of Murillo’s peers and teammates spoke of fond memories with him.
“He’s one of those guys who is hard to sum up; a real character,” Smith said. “He will be impossible to forget.”