Three childhood friends killed in a fatal Sorrento crash early Thursday were headed back home after a night out in New Orleans, celebrating the end of 30-day work shifts for two of them, both tugboat workers.
Tomas Jones, 23, Austin Kiernan, 22, and Sydney Persac, 19, all from St. Amant, were found dead after their car struck a tree and became submerged in an Ascension Parish bayou on Airline Highway just south of La. 22 in Sorrento.
Worried family members and friends posted countless Facebook posts throughout Thursday, frantically searching for word of their loved ones who had been expected back by, at the latest, 5 a.m.
On Friday morning, relatives and friends of the victims gathered at a roadside memorial set up at the site of the crash. They said that Kiernan had finished his month-long work shift last week, and Jones had just finished his 30-day shift Wednesday when they decided to go celebrate with Persac, who was their friend, in New Orleans.
Jones’ grandparents, Joe and Connie Guedry, who were at the site, broke out in sobs after Joe Guedry found their grandson’s wallet in a wooded area near the bayou where the wreck happened.
They also found a backpack that one of Jones’ friends had given him and a cloth face mask that Jones wore when he rode his motorcycle, both items, like the wallet, undamaged.
Austin Kiernan’s sister, Lindsey Kiernan, brought to the crash site a wooden cross she had made and carved with Austin’s name. She nailed it onto a tree that appeared to have been marked by the crash, a portion of its bark torn away.
The crashed vehicle, which split in half when it struck a tree, was found shortly before midnight Thursday by a relative of one the three victims, who had gone looking for the missing family member, found the crash and called 911, said Trooper Bryan Lee, a spokesman for Troop A.
While authorities were investigating the wreck, they discovered a fourth body who was identified as William Ervin, 48, of New Orleans, according to Ascension Parish Sheriff's Chief Deputy Bobby Webre.
Lt. Col. Ward Webb, also with the Sheriff's Office, said that as officers were searching for the third victim of the car crash Thursday night, they discovered a tent near a line of woods in the area and found the man's body in the tent.
"There are no obvious signs of foul play," Webb said.
Chief Deputy Webre said later Friday that deputies learned that Ervin regularly traveled by bike, carrying a tent with him. At the tent deputies located his bicycle as well as medications that indicated Ervin had some previous medical issues, Webre said.
No foul play is suspected in Ervin's death, Webre said. The cause of death will be known after the coroner's office autopsy, he said.
It’s suspected the fatal crash occurred in the early morning hours Thursday, Lee said, as the trio was travelling northbound on Airline Highway, south of La. 22, in Sorrento.
The 2010 Hyundai Genesis ran off the right side of the road and struck an embankment, state police said. The vehicle became airborne, struck a tree and was split in half before coming to rest in the bayou.
It's unclear whether any of the three were wearing seat belts, or if impairment was a factor, State Police said in a report Friday morning. Troopers have also not yet determined who was driving the vehicle.
The crash remains under investigation.
Tomas Jones’ roommate, Michelle Tomlin, said she and others, including a friend of Sydney Persac, reported the three friends missing Thursday afternoon, after the trio hadn’t returned between 3 a.m. to 5 a.m., like they had said they would.
She wondered if the friends had decided to stay somewhere in New Orleans.
“By noon, I knew” something was wrong, Tomlin said.
“Tomas never, never misses my call,” said Connie Guedry, Jones’ grandmother. “If he doesn’t answer, he calls me back.”
On Friday morning at the memorial site Connie Guedry said that she and her husband, family members and friends had been at the crash site since about 11 p.m. Thursday night to 3:30 a.m. Friday.
Family members of the victims discovered the car wreckage in the bayou after someone had remotely located Austin Kiernan’s cellphone at the site, said Joe Guedry, Jones' grandfather.
Apparently one or more of the trio's friends posted on Facebook that they were at the site where the remote signal indicated the cellphone was located. Friends and family showed up at the site and began to search.
As family and friends waited, emergency workers “told us where all the bodies were found,” Connie Guedry said.
Connie Geudry said family members were able to identify Tomas Jones by a tattoo on his hand.
Both Jones and his friend Kiernan had tattoos and “both of them had the same color hair and a little goatee,” Connie Geudry said.
Tears ran down Lindsey Kiernan’s face as she nailed up the memorial cross for her brother, Austin.
“He’s my baby brother,” Kiernan said. “I just wish I had had more time.”
Austin Kiernan’s friend Dameon Wilson brought Austin’s dog, a German Shepherd mix named Cujo, to the crash site Friday.
“He was my best friend,” Wilson said of Kiernan.
“There’s a long list of childhood friends” devastated by the news, he added.
“We’re just waiting for them to release the body and (we will) make funeral arrangements,” Connie Guedry said.
“I wish I could bring him back,” she said of her grandson, but added that it was wrong of her to say so.
“It was his time to go,” she said, fighting off tears.
Several people at the crash site said that the car the three friends had been riding in belonged to Sydney Persac, but it wasn’t known yet who was driving.
Aspyn Guitrau, who worked with Persac at an area convenience store, said that Persac was her best friend.
“She was my go-to for everything,” Guitrau said.
Guitrau said she had gotten a text from Persac at about 2:30 a.m. Thursday morning that said, “I love you.”
Persac also instagrammed Guitrau and two other friends, saying, “I love you. Thank you for always being honest with me. Thank you for being around.”
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