North Texas

Baylor Music Students Killed in Central Texas Crash

All four vehicle occupants with ties to North Texas

A Baylor University student and a recent graduate were killed Tuesday morning when the pickup truck in which they were riding slammed into a tree beside a Central Texas highway.

Two other Baylor students were injured in the crash.

The Texas Department of Public Safety said 19-year-old John Patrick Stewart and 21-year-old  Laura Onwudinanti died in the single-car crash that took place at about 9:30 a.m. along state Highway 7 near Marlin and Kossee in Falls County.

Trooper D.L. Wilson of the Texas Department of Public Safety says the truck drifted off the road when the driver lost control of the vehicle.

Stewart, of Dallas, was a junior instrumental studies major, according to a statement from the school. Onwudinanti, of Grand Prairie, recently earned a bachelor's degree from Baylor in music education.

Injured in the crash were 21-year-old Jacob Travis Hale, a senior instrumental music major from Fort Worth, and 18-year-old Megan Taylor Ritzi, an incoming freshman from Fort Worth.

The four were traveling to perform at the International Clarinet Association meeting at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge when they crashed.

A car crash outside Waco claimed the lives of two Baylor University music students from North Texas, and two others remain hospitalized with serious injuries.

Hale and Ritzi were transported to Baylor Scott & White Temple for treatment, where Hale is in fair condition and Ritzi is in critical condition Tuesday evening.

In a statement released by the school, Baylor president and chancellor Ken Starr said:

"The hearts of the Baylor University family and our School of Music are broken today as we mourn the passing of these remarkably talented students who have been taken too soon from us. We pray that God's grace and comfort will surround the families and friends of Jack Stewart and Laura Onwudinanti at this terribly sad hour. We continue to labor in prayer for Jake Hale and Megan Ritzi, and for their attending physicians, as they are treated for their injuries. We ask the Baylor family to keep all loved ones and friends, and our School of Music faculty, staff and students, in their thoughts and prayers."

On Tuesday night, red, white and black ribbons wrapped around a fence at Lake Highlands High in honor of Stewart where he graduated as salutatorian last year.

At the time, he told The Dallas Morning News, "I will attempt to change the world by changing the lives of everyone around me through my music, my leadership, and my friendship."

“His entire being was to be a musician. So he carried that passion with him the entire time I knew him,” said Danny Martinez, Lake Highlands High School Color Guard Director. “I saw him every day. I worked with him every single day. He was a fantastic student. Extremely hard worker and extremely talented. He will be sorely missed by this organization as well as the community itself.”

"[Stewart] was principal player. He played clarinet two years ago during a show," explained Kathy Downey, president of the Lake Highlands Area Band Club.

(Stewart solos at about 1:20 into the video above)

Downey, along with other band parents and band members, had just seen Stewart at a band convention in San Antonio last weekend.

Onwudinanti is described by friends as having an energy that would fill up a room and a wonderful laugh. She had just graduated from Baylor in May, and now her Grand Prairie community and a Lake Highlands band family is left in mourning.

"Jack is an only child, I have an only child. It's profoundly moving, one of these things that isn't supposed to happen. I do think that him being their only child, it's just beyond words," said Downey.

“It’s just more of a shock that someone so young that’s in their peer range, is gone. That’s something that’s going to take a little bit of time to absorb. But right now it’s just a little bit of a shock,” said Martinez.

NBC 5's Ellen Bryan contributed to this report.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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