For Berkeley High School students Prentice Gray and Kyle Strang, the end of their incredible friendship came too soon.
Both boys, who called each other brothers, died instantly in a car crash in Richmond last Wednesday afternoon, shocking family, friends and those who knew them closely over the years.
Gray graduated in 2009 and was taking an year off from school to work while Strang was expected to graduate in 2011.
Richmond police spokesperson Sgt. Bisa French said the accident happened around 12:45 p.m. March 31, when Strang’s car, a Dodge sedan, lost control while speeding north on Richmond Parkway, crossed over the raised center median and collided head-on into a school bus.
“Both of them were killed on the spot,” French said. “There were no kids on the bus and the bus driver was not hurt. We are in the process of reconstructing the accident right now.”
The road was closed in both directions for more than five hours as police investigated the accident.
French said the Richmond Police and Fire departments and ambulances responded immediately to the scene and found the Dodge to be completely damaged.
“The vehicle was completely smashed under the bus,” she said. “It was stuck underneath it. They had to lift the bus off the car to get to the people inside it.”
French said that so far there was no indication that drugs or alcohol had been involved in the accident. Toxicology reports are expected in two weeks.
The bus belonged to a Richmond company called First Student and was not affiliated to the Contra Costa Unified School District, French said
“Prentice’s mom called me at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday and told me that there was an accident and Prentice and Kyle had passed away,” said Dustin Michaels, who was in Gray’s class at Berkeley High and is close to his family. “I was going to meet with them later that night, but they died. I know they didn’t deserve to die. They were both like brothers to me. Prentice and Kyle were always together and they loved each other and we loved them back.”
Strang’s uncle, landscape architect Ron Lutsko, said the accident appeared to be a “classic case of a young and inexperienced driver losing control of the vehicle.”
“They had dropped the family cat off at the vet, were heading to an auto repair shop, driving north on Richmond Parkway, and lost control, jumping the divider and hitting the southbound bus head on,” Lutsko said. “It appears that they died instantly. Kyle and Prentice were both very happy, on upward swings in their personal evolution, connected to a wide community of friends and family, and their lives ended on a high note.”
Son of Craig Strang and Sharleen Harty, Strang was born and raised in Berkeley. He became Bar Mitzvah at Lawrence Hall of Science where his father is associate director.
A straight A and B student, Strang wanted to live in Israel and become a writer.
Lutsko said Strang’s weekends were spent playing baseball in the Little League, where he was pitcher and second baseman.
Quick to make friends, Strang developed a wide circle centered around his passion for his community, baseball, mixed martial arts and his small school at Berkeley High, Communication, Arts and Sciences.
CAS teacher Dharini Rasiah said she was devastated by the news. Berkeley High is closed this week for spring break, but students and teachers have been going over to support the families of both boys over the last couple of days.
“Kyle was fiercely loyal to his family, friends and classmates,” Lutsko said. “Everyone who knew him understood that he was always happy to be there at a moment’s notice. He had a particularly deep connection to his cousins.”
In addition to his immediate family, Strang is survived by his many aunts, uncles and cousins.
“Kyle was the most motivated, amazing, honest, and truly real person I have ever known,” said Allie McCoy, one of Strang’s best friends at Berkeley High. “He was always there to listen and give great advice. He was so funny—his laugh kills me inside when I hear it in videos now.”
Gray’s friends said that his death was especially hard for his family because his father Prentice Gray Sr. had passed away in 2003.
Gray lived in South Berkeley with his 13-year-old sister Amri who is a student at King Middle School and mother Irma.
Michaels said Strang, a junior at Berkeley High, lived right across the street from Gray.
“He (Strang) was a really good kid, very social,” said Michaels. “He was a cool guy and liked going to parties and meeting people—a regular 16-year-old. I spent a lot of time hanging out with both of them and I’ll miss them a lot.”
A member of the Albany Junior League, Strang’s Facebook page showcases the usual mix of high school humor and interests—including funny YouTube videos—as well as pride in his Jewish heritage.
Condolence messages from friends and family started pouring into both the students’ Facebook walls right after the news started spreading.
“Rest In Peace to my brothers Kyle Strang and Prentice Theodore Gray. I love yall. you will be missed,” wrote one Berkeley High alum on Strang’s wall.
Berkeley High student Tommy Nguyen offered a mixtape, while others scribbled memories of the two boys.
Gray’s Facebook page is typical of a high school teenager’s, where he professes his love for homemade chocolate chip cookies, ice cream sandwiches, Jay Z, hot showers, the beach, Harry Potter, the Golden State Warriors, Tiger Woods and Jackie Chang.
A profile of Gray for Farm Fresh Produce, where he worked, says:
“Prentice T. Gray, is one of the coolest people you’ll ever meet. Raised in South Berkeley by his loving mother and supporting family, he has been able to help his peers with many hard situations “
Berkeley High English teacher Susannah Bell, who taught Gray for four years at Community Partnerships Academy, described him as “a profoundly intelligent, uproariously funny, deeply caring person who had probably the most fun-loving spirit I have ever encountered.”
“Not a day went by that he didn’t bring a smile to my face,” Bell said. “On his last day of high school, I told him he was the face of CPA, and I still believe that. He was. He gave so much love to
those he was close to, and even those he barely knew. He cherished his mother, Irma, who raised him alone after his father passed when Prentice was in middle school. He helped care for his little sister and his baby cousin. He delivered fresh vegetables to those who would otherwise have no access to them. He provided a shoulder to cry on for his many best friends on countless occasions. I say ‘best’ friends because that’s how
Prentice was. He treated everyone like a best friend, and meant it. He gave of himself that much. I loved him, and I will never forget him.”
Lily Owens, a close friend of Gray’s from Berkeley High, remembered some of their earlier days together.
“I met Prentice Gray in my freshman year of high school but we didn’t become close until sophomore year,” she said. “We had biology together and slowly our friendship grew to doing group projects, going out to lunch with each other and having scary movie nights at our friend Chelsa’s house. Whether we were sitting next to each other in class sharing ear phones, drawing all over my arms, getting chicken sandwiches for lunch on school days, or listening to him make fun of everyone in the class there was never a dull moment with Prentice.”
Owens described Gray as “one of the greatest friends that I have ever had.”
“He made my life so much better and I love him more than he will know,” she said. “There won’t be a day that goes by that I won’t think of him and all of the amazing times that we had together. I'll miss his jokes, his laugh, and his ‘brown eyes’ that we always laughed about.”
Owens said that the last time she saw Gray was last Saturday.
“We didn’t even do anything, we stood outside my house for half an hour and laughed and talked but I’m so grateful that I got to have that moment,” she said.
Gray, Owens said, had recently quit his job and was looking for a new one.
“He told me he wanted to go back to school because he wanted to do something and go somewhere later on,” she said.
LaShanté Churchwell, Owens’ surrogate sister, said she had met Gray for a brief period but remembered him as “the sweetest high school kid I’ve ever met.”
“Prentice started new with everyone.” she said. “No pre-judgements, no if’s and’s or but’s about who they were, who they knew or what they did in life.”