QUEEN CREEK, Ariz. — At the same location where a car crash ended the life of a Queen Creek teenager, dozens gathered to remember him.
Family and friends placed flowers, pictures, and candles right next to the broken brick wall blocked off by yellow caution tape placed there by law enforcement.
Eighteen-year-old Caleb Rodriguez was adored by the dozens that attended.
“He always did what was best and had a big heart," said Elijah Rodriguez, one of Caleb's older brothers. "I miss him.”
"He was my world," said Paul Rodriguez about his son. “Words can’t describe how much, how wonderful and special that kid was."
What stood out to his family was how Caleb could brighten any room he walked into. A pillar of strength for the family.
His Dad said, “He always looked at the bright side of everything, and it always just boosted me up. Whenever I was down, or his brothers were down, he always found the bright side of it, and it’s going to be so lost and so missed in this family.”
They talked about how Caleb just graduated from Florence High School. He played many sports alongside his brothers. Caleb was about to start culinary school. On the path to fulfilling his dream of becoming a chef. A dream that came to an end Saturday morning.
"There is going to be a big empty space in this family that will never be filled," Paul Rodriguez said.
It was on that day that Caleb and four others were driving from Gilbert back to Queen Creek when they got into a horrific high-speed crash, according to police.
Caleb's best friend Logan Hall was one of those passengers. He was also injured in the crash. “It was awful,” Hall said. Hall told 12News they got into a car with 18-year-old Exana Tessema, who has now been charged with manslaughter and assault charges.
"Honestly, I don't know the driver, no," Hall said. "The driver is a friend of a friend." He then claimed Tessema was intoxicated, but they got in the car anyway. Speeding down streets in a packed car when it crashed. Hall said, "Smoke and fire started coming from the engine."
He was able to get one of the other teenagers out, he said as the fire spread. Caleb, however, was still inside.
"It's been unbelievably hard because you can never expect something like this to happen, and it's something that could have easily been prevented," Hall said, regretting the decisions made that night.
"We lost a great soul because of a mistake," Paul Rodriguez started to say when Hall spoke up, saying it was "a choice."
Now, all this family can think about is what they would say to Caleb. For Jaeden Rodriguez, the oldest sibling. It's simple, "There are only three words I can think of, and it's I love you."
"There is just a big dark cloud over this family right now, but I know there is light out there somewhere," Caleb's dad said.
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