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Friends remember Highlands football player as 'brother'

| Saturday, July 13, 2013, 6:39 p.m.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Ryan Richards
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dis
Blake Leri pauses while he talks about the death of his friend and teammate, Ryan Richards, who was killed in a car accident Friday night, as Michael Calfe, right, comforts a teammate who declined to be identified after a team meeting in the football locker room at Golden Rams Stadium on Saturday, July 13, 2013.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dis
Highlands football coach Sam Albert pauses as he talks about Ryan Richards, a star athlete who was killed in a car accident on Friday night in West Deer. Photographed at Golden Rams Stadium on Saturday, July 13, 2013.

Besides being a bright student and a talented football player, Ryan Richards was “just that dude” who “made everything better,” said his childhood friend, Blake Leri.

Leri, 16, is the quarterback for the Highlands High School Golden Rams football team. He had been anticipating hurling passes this fall to Richards, a wide receiver.

But Richards, 17, of Tarentum died late Friday night after he fell out of the bed of a moving pickup in West Deer.

After a locker room meeting called by their coach Saturday afternoon, Leri said he was left numb by the loss — one an entire community was struggling to make sense of.

“He was a brother to every one of us,” Leri said as his teammates sobbed and hugged each other.

A vigil for Richards is planned for 8:30 p.m. Sunday at the Highlands High School F-wing parking lot. Those wishing to speak at the vigil should arrive by 7:45 p.m.

Richards died from head injuries suffered when he fell, according to the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's office. His death was ruled accidental.

A medical examiner supervisor said Richards was thrown from the vehicle as the driver made a hard left at Poplar Street and Saxonburg Boulevard in West Deer just after 11 p.m. Friday.

The supervisor said Richards was standing in the pickup bed, behind the truck's cab. Three others with him in the bed of the truck had been sitting down. Four others were in the cab of the truck.

Allegheny County police Superintendent Charles Moffatt said police were not identifying the driver or passengers, who ranged in age from 17 to 19.

No drugs or alcohol were involved, he said. Moffatt said that police consider this to be a “tragic accident.”

No charges have been filed, he said, but police are investigating.

Richards was taken to a nearby fire station in preparation to be airlifted to a Pittsburgh hospital, but he died at the fire station at 11:42 p.m.

Damen McDermott, 17, said he has been best friends with Richards since the sixth grade. He received a call about the accident and said he was on his way to the hospital when he got another call telling him Richards had died.

He then spent the night with Richards' family.

“He always made people laugh,” McDermott said. “He was one of the best natural-born athletes I'd ever seen, and he wasn't cocky about it. He always cared about somebody else. That's why so many are sad today.”

Richards, who was entering his senior year, was a well-rounded student who excelled in football and baseball, Highlands spokeswoman Misty Chybrzynski said.

“He will be sadly missed by faculty, coaches and teammates and fellow classmates,” she said.

McDermott's mother, Heather Adams, said Richards and her son were part of a group of friends about whom their parents never had to worry.

“I loved that kid like he was one of my own kids,” she said. “That phone call could've been for any one of us last night.”

Adams said she knows all the kids who were in the pickup. She called what happened “a freak accident.”

“It was unfortunate they made a bad decision. At this age, they think they're invincible,” she said.

Caroline Jackson's son, Sean Jackson, 17, was one of Richards' teammates. She was hugging players as they arrived at the stadium for the team meeting.

Caroline Jackson, who works at the high school, said Richards was always positive. He was a leader, a young man who was going places, she said.

Leri said Richards was interested in becoming a police officer.

“This is absolutely devastating to the entire community. He was so bright. He had it all together,” Caroline Jackson said.

Football coach Sam Albert said he learned of Richards' death at 2:30 a.m. Saturday. He said Richards was an “excellent young man,” a straight-A student and a hard worker who never missed a workout.

“He's like a son to me. He's like a brother to them,” he said before the team meeting. “I don't know what to say to them.”

Albert said Richards will be made a team captain. Training camp starts the second week of August.

“We're going to dedicate this season to Ryan,” said Michael Calfe, 18, a tight end on the team. “We're going to win. We're going to win a lot this year.”

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4701 or brittmeyer@tribweb.com.

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