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The three teenagers who died early Sunday morning in a car crash on Highway 1 near Sea Ranch were popular students and soccer players at Point Arena High and were well known in the tiny and tight-knit Mendocino Coast towns where they grew up.

Jhovani Gonzalez-Marquez, 18, and his 14-year-old brother, Aron Gonzalez-Marquez, both of Sea Ranch, died when Jhovani's 1996 Acura spun off the road near Sea Ranch, flipped and smashed into a tree around 4 a.m Sunday morning. Their cousin, Jason Alanis Marquez, 18, of Gualala, who was airlifted from the scene, died Sunday night at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital where he underwent surgery for his injuries, according to his family,

The three had attended a quincea?ra on Saturday night at the Gualala Community Center until midnight. They are believed to have driven a friend home to Annapolis and were returning home when they crashed, CHP Sgt. Allan Capurro said Monday.

The loss has reverberated throughout the Sea Ranch, Gualala and Point Arena communities, where residents, many who knew the boys or their families, contributed to funds set up to offset the costs of their funerals. One fund had raised more than $6,000 by Monday evening. A family member said a number of Point Arena students showed up at the hospital on Sunday where Jason was taken after the accident.

A vigil was held at the Sea Ranch home of Jhvani and Aron on Monday night that drew more than 100 people, according to a family friend.

"It's just a nightmare," said Angela Marquez, of Gualala, the boys' aunt. "It's hard to even believe it. Like it's not even real. They were the sweetest boys, all of them."

Marquez said the three boys were born and raised on the Mendocino Coast and had always been close. Soccer players from when they were very young, the three of them all played together last season on the Point Arena soccer team. Jhovani, a midfielder, was one of four captains and his cousin Jason was a striker. Aron, the youngest and a freshman, played defense.

"Jhovani was a real leader," former Point Arena soccer coach Ruben Reza said from Los Angeles where he had just moved to start a new job. "He was that player you could rely on, who had the respect of the other players and the coaches."

While all three boys were well-liked at Point Arena, a small high school of less than 200 students, Jason, who turned 18 last week, was among the most popular said family and friends.

"He was a real character, very magnetic," Reza said. "He was one of those kids who lots of other kids thought of as their best friend."

Marquez said many local kids showed up at the hospital Sunday to support the family and check in on Jason.

Like Jason, Aron had a sense of humor.

"He was a funny, fun boy," she said. "He had a huge personality and always tried to make people laugh."

The youngest, Aron, looked up to his cousin and brother and was the fastest of the three on the soccer field.

On Monday, CHP investigators said it appeared Jhovani, who was driving, was going too fast for a curve and lost control.

Marquez, who said she was speaking for the family, said they had many questions yet unanswered, including why they had driven to Annapolis that night.

Like Reza, Marquez described Jhovani as someone who felt responsible for others and looked after younger kids.

"That's why it's all such a shock," she said, adding Jhovani had complained of not being able to sleep well. in the days before the crash. "We still don't know what happened but he was a responsible man who didn't take chances. He knew what he was doing. We have to believe he just fell asleep at the wheel."

Jhovani and Aron were the only children of Antonio and Arcelia Marquez, a chef and hotel worker.

Jhovani, who graduated from Point Arena this spring, was planning on attending Santa Rosa Junior College this fall. He wanted to study auto mechanic. He had a passion for cars, as did his brother and cousin.

Crash investigators Monday were continuing their analysis of the crash, including trying to determine speed. They are interviewing people the three had been with during the night to outline their last several hours, including whether the driver had been drinking.

Marquez said the family was moved by the response from the community.

"It's truly amazing how much people have done already and how many people have called to help," she said. "Many knew the boys but even those who didn't have asked to help us. It's touched our hearts more deeply than anyone could ever know."

Staff writer Randi Rossmann contributed to this story.

You can reach Staff Writer Elizabeth M. Cosin at 521-5276 or elizabeth.cosin@pressdemocrat.com.