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Ryan Stevens, 16 -- Car Accident (Fire)

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HOLDEN -- Patrick McGovern and Ryan Stevens were best friends who both played baseball, basketball, and football at St. Peter-Marian Central Catholic Junior/Senior High School in Worcester, where they would have been juniors in the fall.

Blessed with youth, good looks, wit, and athletic prowess, the 16-year-old Worcester youths were an unstoppable duo, well liked by their peers, and deemed charming by adults.

So when the two teens died after their car crashed into a gasoline tanker Friday, many family and friends refused to believe the news.

''It won't be real for me until the funeral," said Angel Guzman, 16, who gathered with a group of 25 teenagers and several of their parents yesterday at the intersection of Brattle Street and Doyle Road in Holden, where the accident occurred at about 11:15 p.m. on Friday.

''No one wants to believe it," Guzman said.

''It's hard for everyone to take," said Scott Tefft, Stevens's uncle. ''All the girls loved him [Stevens]. All the guys wanted to be him. He was a really great kid."

Holden Police Department officials said the youths were driving south on Brattle Street, headed for McGovern's home, in Stevens's Toyota Avalon when they ignored a stop sign and struck the rear of a Mobil gas truck, which was heading east on Doyle Road.

Police refused to say who was driving, and witnesses and friends said they did not know the identity of the driver.

The Toyota was dragged for about 100 yards down Doyle Road before the tanker came to a stop. Witnesses said the truck driver jumped out of the cab and ran down the street, yelling for everyone to run away.

That was when residents said they heard two explosions and saw flames shoot from the vehicles.

The flames ''were huge," said Jeffrey Vayo, 28.

Vayo said he was visiting a friend on Doyle Street when he heard the explosions and ran outside.

The flames ''were as large as a house. It looked like a movie," Vayo said.

The teens died instantly, said witnesses and police, and the Toyota was scorched by the explosions.

Officials told residents to leave the area in case the tanker triggered larger explosions.

''We were so worried, it was horrifying," said Judith Bailey, who was getting ready for bed with her husband, Stewart, when they heard the crash. ''It looked like the whole neighborhood was on fire."

The truck driver, who was not identified by officials, was aghast, witnesses said.

''He was pacing up and down the street, just holding his head," Vayo said. ''He was a mess."

Police said this is the first traffic fatality this year in Holden, a small town of about 16,000 residents near Worcester.

Yesterday, friends set up a memorial for the teens, driving a makeshift wooden cross into the grass near the road and placing white roses and a can of SpaghettiOs, McGovern's favorite food.

''They were the funniest people," said Rebekah Atchue, 16, who went to school with the youths. ''They were goofy dancers, and they were always trying to make everyone laugh."

''Everyone loved them," said Katelynn Benoit, 16. ''We have all grown up together since kindergarten, and it really hasn't hit any of us yet. We just can't believe it."

According to Atchue and Benoit, McGovern and Stevens were at Stevens's home Friday when they rushed out at about 10:40 p.m. to take McGovern home so that Stevens could be back by his 11:30 curfew.

Matthew Sturgis, headmaster of the 1,100-student Catholic school the teens attended, said colleagues yesterday described them as good students and athletes.

''The entire school community is shocked and saddened by this tragedy," Sturgis said.

''We thought they both had very bright futures."



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