Major Augustin Gonzalez, 36, was proud have just earned his master’s degree from Duke University as he drove through Kentucky with three of his children, Noelle, Gwendolyn, and Nicholas.
They were headed home to Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Colorado, while Gonzalez’ wife Melissa was with the couple’s newborn son Gabriel, flying overhead, excited to meet them at their destination
Sadly, Melissa would not see her husband or daughters alive. On a stretch of Kentucky highway, Gonzalez’ 2013 Dodge Caravan struck a tow truck that had pulled over to help drivers involved in a separate wreck.
“An uninvolved non-injury collision had occurred ahead, and the operator of a 2018 International tow truck owned by Crossroads Towing, equipped with yellow caution emergency lights, had stopped partially in the left lane to assist the involved occupant,” the state police said in a statement to PEOPLE.
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Noelle, 6, and Gwendolyn, 2, were taken to different hospitals, and both later died of injuries sustained in the accident. Nicholas, 8, who only suffered minor injuries, was treated and released.
Melissa Gonzalez worked as a second-grade teacher at Horton’s Creek Elementary until the birth of her fourth child. The PTA at the school has set up a donation page for the family and already raised more than $66,000 of its $75,000 goal in 24 hours.
Funeral services for Gonzalez, Noelle and Gwendolyn are being arranged.
“He was like full, bright, all the time, so I used to tell my kids you should learn from Augie,” Manaz Kuriyodath, the Gonzalez’ neighbor, told WKYT. “Even he goes through all these things — he had school to study, his wife is not working, a 1-month-old baby, and he still always works out, plays every evening, makes sure he has fun with the kids, so he’s a great dad, a great friend.”
“He was the kind of guy who you could probably put him on Mars, and he’d find a way to be comfortable and find a group of Martians to lead and have an effect on them. That’s the kind of guy he was,” said Gonzalez’ former football coach, Rich Hansen, at St. Peter’s Prep, in New Jersey.
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.