The Bear River High School students killed in a head-on collision on Highway 49 Thursday afternoon were seniors awaiting graduation next spring. Family members described them as “two peas in a pod” despite their different interests.
The California Highway Patrol identified the students as Jude (Alex) Douden and Joseph ‘Joe’ Rantz Friday afternoon. They were both 18 years old.
“They’re actually kind of opposites,” said Rantz’s father, Devon Rantz. “You would think they were in different circles but they blended lines. They got along with everybody.”
Rantz was a star baseball player at the school, making the varsity team as a left-handed pitcher his junior year. An athlete from a young age, the student had ambitions of playing baseball at the collegiate level, his parents said.
Douden had a passion for music, excelling in the school’s jazz band as a saxophonist, according to Devon Rantz.
“He was very gifted,” he said.
The two met when Rantz’s family moved from Seattle in his freshman year.
On Thursday, the teens were on their way to the Rantz family business, The Sleep Shop, where they worked together transporting furniture. Authorities said their car, a white 1999 BMW, was heading southbound on the highway near Joeger Road when it crossed into the northbound lane and was hit by a utility truck.
The accident was reported around 1:15 p.m. as a major storm swept through Northern California, with the brunt of the rain coming during the afternoon commute hours.
“Right now, they are thinking speed was a possible factor,” said CHP spokesman David Martinez. Both boys were wearing seat belts at the time of the accident, he said.
Douden, an Auburn resident, was driving and had picked up Rantz, who lived with his family in Grass Valley. On Douden’s Facebook page, his profile picture shows him posing with a white BMW.
Photos show that the BMW was nearly split by the impact. Douden was ejected from the car. The truck driver suffered minor injuries, Martinez said.
Rantz’s mother, Annie Rantz, said she was texting her son in the minutes leading up to the accident. She and her husband, who were together at the time, had grown worried after their son stopped replying to their messages.
Neither of the teens were picking up their phones. Annie Rantz said a locator app on her phone showed her son at a standstill on Highway 49.
“His phone was stopped on Highway 49 and I thought it was strange,” she said. “I just watched it for a while.”
The couple decided to go to the pin where the app said her son was located. As they grew closer, they saw that there was an accident causing traffic ahead but hoped that their son was not involved, Annie Rantz said.
“I got out of the van and I went over there praying that it wasn’t a BMW,” Devon Rantz said. “I got out and saw that it was Jude’s car.”
The news of the teens’ deaths came as a shock to the Grass Valley high school, with students taking to social media to express their disbelief and share condolences.
School Principal Amy Besler said students had created a memorial in the school’s quad to commemorate the loss of the students. Additional counselors were brought into the school on Friday to help students mourning the death of their classmates, Belser said.
“Right now we are really in the middle of the shock and the grief, but we’ll get there,” she said.
Friday was the last day of classes before winter break, according to the school’s website. Besler said a candlelight vigil for Rantz and Douden would be held in the school’s quad Friday afternoon. A jazz band performance scheduled for Friday night would continue in the students’ honor, Besler said.