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Shock, devastation: Tragic loss after seniors die in auto accident

Seniors Jude Douden and Joe Rantz lost their lives in a fatal car accident. Courtesy photo, Photo by Cat Renner

Grief-stricken Bear River students struggled to accept the tragic passing of Jude (Alex) Douden and Joe Rantz on Friday.

According to a report in The Union, the two seniors died Thursday afternoon in a Placer County wreck on Highway 49 when their vehicle, traveling southbound, crossed the center line and collided with a Ford F-350. The collision happened around 1:15 p.m. near Dry Creek Road.

“We are devastated by the loss of these two incredible young men,” said Principal Amy Besler. “They embodied everything we love about our Bruins — they were kind, dedicated, talented, and genuine. It will be incredibly difficult to not see Joe take the baseball field or Jude hit the stage with the jazz band. Beyond their awesome contributions to Bear River, Joe and Jude were simply great people … the kind of guys who are genuinely loved by all. The hole they have left in our school community can never be filled, as they were uniquely them. We will do everything we can to embrace their families and loved ones and honor their memories here at Bear River.”

The 18 year olds were well-known at Bear River, with many friends. Douden was a fixture in the band realm as a saxophone player for the Bear River Jazz Band. Rantz was a skilled pitcher for Bear River’s Baseball Team.

Shocked, tearful teachers and mentors who knew Douden and Rantz best shared their reflections of the young men. Bear River teacher David Ahrens, Douden’s longtime band instructor, recalled his fun-loving personality behind the scenes in the music department.

“Well, you know Jude, he was just the kindest person I think I’ve ever met,” Mr. Ahrens said. “He was so nice all the time to everybody. He got into a lot of shenanigans, behind the scenes, but if anybody found out, he was the most true and genuinely sorry and apologetic, but then he was so polite and kind to every student and every person. That’s the thing above all the musical memories — over four plus years that I’ve had with him, that’s the number one thing that really stands out.”

Baseball Head Coach Eric Van Patten shared Rantz’s amazing qualities, in the game and outside of it.

“Joe Rantz was the quintessential laid back player of Bruin baseball,” Coach Van Patten said. “He didn’t have highs, he didn’t have lows, he just was chill all the time, on the field and around the game. He’ll be missed not just in our dugout, he’ll be missed on the hill. He was just a fun, young man to coach and I know he’s deeply loved by his players and his friends here at the school, and liked by many. That’s just one thing about Joe that was surprising, sometimes you can get kids that just sort of have a few friends, but Joe seemed to have a lot of friends because I think he was able to just cross over into a lot of subcultures of people, and people just liked him. He was just cool, a very cool kid. I’m going to miss him, a lot.”

Together with grief counselors and weeping friends, students roamed campus Friday. They shared their memories and consoled each other. Rantz’s fellow senior teammate, Wyatt Hook, described the kind of person Rantz was and how he could elevate a friend’s day, no matter what was going on.

“Joe was the kid that was always there to help you better yourself no matter where it was, on the field or off,” said Hook. “Between high school kids there’s always a lot of hate from one kid to another but with Joe there was never any hate. He always had his friend’s back and was part of brightening the day. Always laughing, caring, and helping. Joe’s gonna be missed and so is Jude. Both of them will be in our hearts forever. Kids that play together, stay together, no matter what happens on or off the field.”

Senior Aidan Conley reflected on how he became friends with Douden in elementary school.

“In sixth grade, I was damn the most awkward, lonely sixth grader you’d ever meet,” Conley said. “I didn’t have any particular friend group because I didn’t make the transition from fifth to sixth very well. So, at Magnolia, I would always just sit at a table by myself and play on my DS, because I didn’t really have anybody to be with or talk to. Second week of school, Jude came and sat next to me and pulled out his DS. He was the first person I made an actual connection with at Magnolia. He was just an amazing guy. I wouldn’t have been able to do much, coming into that new environment, if he hadn’t helped me.”

Another one of Joe’s senior teammates and close friends, Trevor Hennig, talked about how Rantz would help people out.

“He was one of the best people you could lean on,” Hennig said. “He would listen and help you through issues you were going through.”

Zayle Rudiger, Douden’s fellow musician, told what he loved about his close friend.

“Every time he would laugh, he would cry,” Rudiger said. “And I loved that about him.”

Senior Austin Tague, a close friend of both Rantz and Douden, said both students had accepting qualities that helped him personally.

“Joe and Jude have been, personally, my closest friends throughout high school,” he said. “Something I really admire about both of them is how accepting they were especially with me, because I have a hard time making friends and they were not hesitant at all to make me feel welcomed and make me feel like I had good friends with me, and a lot of support. They were two really, really, really good guys with so much potential ahead of them and I really wish they’re in a better place.”

Throughout this whole tragedy, senior Trace Anderson said Bruins need to stay positive and keep our heads up, to honor the memory of Rantz and Douden.

“Joe was just, you know him, always would make us laugh, like sitting on the bench, at baseball games,” Anderson said. “You know, he always kept me occupied and focused on the game. He was a great baseball player. Jude, Alex, he was just a great guy, no one beefed with him, ever. He didn’t beef with anyone. He was always there to just, do nice things for people. Makes you wonder, why them? But there’s nothing we can do about it except try to learn from it, and try to take something positive out if it, otherwise, their whole life would be in vain.”

— Kaylee Guerra, Hailey Juergenson and Jared Pittsley contributed to this report.

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Shock, devastation: Tragic loss after seniors die in auto accident