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Out of a reckless moment, tragedy and reconciliation
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    TEXAS CITY, Texas — A cool, clear Texas night. A straight expanse of roadway. Two teenage boys, idling their car engines at the same stoplight.
    Blake Ingles was driving his ‘‘baby’’ — a maroon 2001 Pontiac Firebird with gleaming new rims. Cristian Rico was behind the wheel of the 2001 silver Mitsubishi Eclipse he had bought just five days earlier.
    For weeks, the two La Marque High School juniors, friends since middle school, had been trading good-natured boasts and banter about their cars over MySpace.
    ‘‘We’ll have to race one of these days,’’ wrote Blake the night before, after Cristian posted a photo of his new car. ‘‘It’ll be a pretty even race.’’
    Now, just after 10 p.m. on a Wednesday, they happened to cross paths. Seventeen-year-old Cristian had just left his shift at a Popeye’s restaurant a few blocks from his house. Sixteen-year-old Blake was headed home from an evening hanging out with friends.
    On the spur of the moment, the two teenagers decided to back up their youthful bragging.
    They hit the gas and took off down 34th Street, a tempting stretch of pavement just off the main highway in this industrial town between Houston and Galveston. As the Firebird and the Eclipse jockeyed for the lead, tires rumbled over pavement, two engines revved in the darkness.
    Within a matter of seconds, the cars would unexpectedly careen into a patch of loose gravel and shredded road — and everything would change.
    One boy would die; the other would be jailed.
    In one impetuous instant, two promising futures dashed; two families plunged into a chasm of grief and loss; dozens of friends left to grapple with the sudden intrusion of tragedy.
    ‘‘It was a moment of youthful indiscretion with tragic results,’’ said Texas City Police Capt. Brian Goetschius. ‘‘These are both our kids.’’
    But that night, that instant, would also provide a lesson in the generosity of the human heart. Two sets of parents — still staggering under sorrow’s weight — would reach out to each other, offering not anger or recrimination, but comfort and forgiveness.
    And, in the midst of mourning, there would also be a reprieve, and a reason to give thanks.
    ———
    Blake was the fun one, always willing to drive his crew to one of their favorite hangouts, the Hooters in nearby Galveston.
    ‘‘I love to do spontaneous things,’’ Blake wrote on his MySpace page. ‘‘I care a lot about people in general. Helping someone and making their day is the greatest feeling in the world.’’
    In the ‘‘Who I’d like to meet’’ category, Blake listed one name: ‘‘Jesus Christ (my savior).’’
    Blake, a computer whiz, was enrolled in a program that allowed students to earn associate’s degrees while still in high school.
    And, as the youngest member of his crowd, he was counting the days to his 17th birthday on Dec. 28.
    Cristian, known to everyone as Rico, was the quiet one, harder to pull out of his shell but funny and fond of pranks when he felt at ease. He spent most of his free time with his family, working his part-time job at the fried chicken place, or involved in St. Mary’s Catholic Church.
    Born in Mexico, Cristian was 2 years old when he came to the United States with his family. He took advanced placement courses at La Marque High School.
    Both boys had reputations as friends you could always count on, said Sergio Sanchez, who has known the two since middle school. ‘‘They’re both good kids. If you needed help and they could help, they would.’’
    Blake and Cristian also shared one great passion: their cars.
    Blake’s MySpace page contained so many photographs of his Pontiac Firebird that his friends often teased him about it. Rico’s page also featured pictures of his old car — a Dodge Neon outfitted with neon under-car lights — and the Mitsubishi Eclipse he purchased the day after Thanksgiving.
    ‘‘Boys will be boys,’’ Sanchez noted with a sad smile. ‘‘Give a boy a fast car and he’s happy.’’
    ———
    The Texas City Police accident report condenses the events of Nov. 28 into a single, dryly worded paragraph:
    ‘‘Unit No. 1 and Unit No. 2 were traveling southbound on 34th St. N. Witness advised she was behind both units who were racing side by side. Unit No. 1 lost control and struck the east ditch. Unit No. 2 lost control and proceeded south into the west ditch. Unit No. 1 came to rest back in the roadway. Unit No. 2 flipped several times and came to rest on its tires in the roadway. Unit No. 2 was found to be deceased at the scene.’’
    Blake, driving his Firebird, was Unit No. 2.
    Cristian, behind the wheel of his Eclipse, was Unit No. 1.
    But the police report doesn’t describe the roar of the cars. The ‘‘Whoosh! Whoosh!’’ of the cars passing drew Sanchez and his cousin from their house.
    Nor does it note that the paved road, normally a quick detour from one main road to another, abruptly stopped, the smooth surface torn into jagged edges and slippery gravel by construction crews who had begun work earlier that day.
    It doesn’t detail the dread-inducing sound of crunching metal, the heart-chilling sight of cars so gnarled and mangled that Sanchez could not recognize the vehicles.
    Or Christian’s shock and despair after Sanchez’s cousin yanked him from his twisted car.
    ‘‘All he kept saying was ’Help my friend, my good friend, good friend, good friend’,’’ said Sanchez, recalling the first frantic moments following the 10:14 p.m. crash.
    Cristian’s first instinct was to rush to his family’s house — just a few yards from the accident scene — desperately looking for someone to help Blake.
    It was too late. Blake, whose car had rolled over more than 10 times, would not reach his 17th birthday.
    ‘‘To know that someone could be gone in a heartbeat,’’ said Sanchez. ‘‘Literally. It happened in a heartbeat. That’s how fast it happened.’’
    ———
    Three days later, Blake’s friends and classmates gathered to plant a cross by the spot where Blake’s car had landed. A cold, sharp wind blew out the candles held aloft by teenagers who should have been celebrating a Saturday night.
    Around the cross (engraved with a promise of remembrance: ‘‘In Memory of Blake Ingles. Will be missed’’), mourners arranged a makeshift altar of flowers and candles. Someone draped a silver chain with a cross over the wooden memorial; someone else left a silver heart.
    Blake’s family was there. So was Cristian’s.
    The Ricos also attended Blake’s funeral, which drew more than 500 mourners, including a group of La Marque students wearing black-and-white Puma sneakers — Blake’s favorite footwear.
    At the vigil, the funeral and the private moments in between, there have been tears, pain, sadness — but no blame. Instead, in the aftermath of the accident, the two families joined in support and shared loss.
    Don and Rachel Ingles had already lost a son. And now, it seemed, Gabriel and Rosa Rico could also lose theirs.
    The day after the wreck, Cristian, who was uninjured, was arrested and charged with racing on a highway causing serious bodily injury or death — a second-degree felony that carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
    Cristian’s arrest brought him to the attention of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who learned that he was in the country illegally and placed him on an immigration hold. Cristian now faces the possibility of being deported to Mexico, a country the predominantly English-speaking teenager barely remembers.
    Cristian spent two weeks in a cell at the Galveston County Jail, scared and numb. Already anguished by the death of a friend, he also had to confront the prospect of a shattered future.
    But he found unexpected sources of light.
    The Ingles family said publicly that they did not think Cristian should be deported or punished for the accident, saying he was no more at fault than Blake.
    ‘‘They don’t feel like he did anything wrong. They were just two boys being boys,’’ said Carl Strickland, pastor of Texas City Missionary Baptist Church, which Blake and his family attended. ‘‘They lost a child and they are grieving very much over that, but they understand that other parents must feel the same thing. Their child has been taken away too. They know the other family is suffering too.’’
    At Mainland Bank in Texas City, a fund was set up to help with Cristian’s legal costs; another to help with Blake’s funeral expenses. And at La Marque High School, students — many of whom were friends of Blake’s — wrote letters of encouragement for Cristian.
    ‘‘It was just one of those freak accidents,’’ said Katy Cucco, 17, a close friend of Blake’s. ‘‘It could have gone either way. That could have been Blake in jail and it could have been Rico we’re mourning. We’re still lucky to have one.’’
    Then, two weeks after the accident, a day after Cristian’s father prayed to the Virgin of Guadalupe for his son’s fate, a grand jury voted not to charge the teenager with felony racing.
    For those whose lives have been jarred by the accident, it was one bright spot in a bleak landscape.
    Cristian was immediately taken into immigration custody, then released on his own recognizance and turned over to his parents. He must still appear before an immigration court judge who will decide if he can stay in this country.
    But for now, Cristian is back home — within sight of the place where his friend Blake died.

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