In a year that has pushed people apart physically, tragedy in Stanfield has brought the community closer together.
Five young men ages 14-20 — three current Stanfield Secondary School students and two recent graduates — were injured in a rollover crash on Sept. 29 outside Hermiston. Since then, community members have hosted several fundraisers for the three most seriously injured.
“The outpouring of love through all of the donations is so greatly appreciated!!!” organizer Angie Hallgarth wrote on a GoFundMe page for Gabriel Monkus, who was transported via Life Flight to Sacred Heart Hospital in Spokane the night of the crash. “Prayers are still very much needed for Gabriel as well as for his family. Thank you all so very much!!!”
Another GoFundMe account has been set up for Armando Nunez, who was also seriously injured and sent via Life Flight to Spokane, Washington, and his brother Eduardo, who, according to the GoFundMe page, broke his leg in the crash.
On Thursday, Oct. 1, about 100 community members gathered for a candlelight vigil at Bard Park for the young men. It wasn’t the reunion that Stanfield Secondary School Principal Steve Sheller had hoped to have with his students, he said.
“Whatever you’re feeling now — whatever it is — it’s OK,” he told the crowd as the sun set. “If you feel sad, that’s OK. If you feel fearful, that’s OK. If you don’t know what to feel, that’s OK. ... What’s not OK is to do it alone.”
According to Umatilla County Sheriff Terry Rowan, deputies were dispatched for the report of a crash on North Loop Road to the east of Hermiston at about 10:15 p.m.
The Oregon State Police and its crash reconstruction unit is assisting the sheriff’s office in the investigation, but statements at the scene indicated a 2012 Toyota Camry lost control and left the roadway while traveling in excess of 100 mph.
The vehicle severed a power pole and three of its occupants were ejected, Rowan said.
All five were then transported from the scene to Good Shepherd Medical Center in Hermiston before three were flown to Sacred Heart Hospital in Spokane.
Rowan identified the driver of the vehicle as 19-year-old Eduardo Nunez.
During the candlelight vigil, Sheller directed his comments to the students there, telling them that even though the pandemic has created isolation, it was important not to try to deal with their worries on their own.
“You have a tremendous community here in Stanfield,” he said.
He encouraged everyone present to heed former President Teddy Roosevelt’s words to “spend yourself in a worthy cause” and to find ways to help other people as they go through a difficult time.
“Now is a great time to be kind to one another,” he said.
Stanfield Baptist Church Pastor John Hurty led the group in prayer, and said that his heart went out to all the friends and family of the boys affected.
“An event like this reminds us that life is incredibly fragile and incredibly precious,” he said.
After people at the vigil lit candles and observed a moment of silence, members of the group broke off into smaller groups to pray together, cry together or sign cards and a banner with well wishes.
Sheller said school counselors continue to be available for students who wish to speak to one.
While online GoFundMe fundraisers were set up immediately for Gabriel Monkus and the Nunez brothers, many of their classmates have spearheaded other efforts to help as well.
On Saturday, Oct. 3, a group of teenagers spent the entire day washing cars in the parking lot of Stanfield’s Center Market.
The car wash benefit was advertised as going until 5 p.m., but when a Hermiston Herald reporter stopped by that afternoon, participants said they were ready to go until dark if there were still cars waiting to be washed.
A line of vehicles three wide stretched through the parking lot, with generous tips coming from many of those visiting the fundraiser.
On Thursday, Oct. 8 Java Junkies plans to donate all of its sales to the Monkus and Nunez families.
Other support efforts are also being shared on social media using the hashtag #tigerstrong, in reference to the high school’s mascot.
East Oregonian reporter Alex Castle contributed to this report.