— James Earl Rudder (@JamesEarlRudder) July 30, 2013
Here’s what you need to know about this tragedy…
1. ‘Inattention or Driver Fatigue’ Are Speculated as the Cause of the Crash
Polo was traveling with three others from Utah to Texas when the car rolled on US 550, just 9 miles north of the town of Cuba, New Mexico (shown above). Police have not yet determined why the 2002 Toyota SUV they were driving rolled off the road, though driver “inattention or driver fatigue” has been mentioned by authorities as a possible cause.
2. Polo Was Killed Alongside Two Others
Also killed with Polo was Utah Utes freshman player Gaius “Keio” Vaenuku. Another Ute player, offensive tackle Salesi Uhatafe (Polo’s stepbrother),
Salesi Uhatafe was also involved and injured. He was taken to a nearby hospital in critical condition. — Thomas Karren (@UteScoutInsider) July 30, 2013 survived the wreck
Salesi Uhatafe was also involved and injured. He was taken to a nearby hospital in critical condition.
— Thomas Karren (@UteScoutInsider) July 30, 2013
survived the wreckand is in critical condition, as did his father, Salesi Sr.
Sal Uhatafe’s brother, Lolo, also lost his life in the accident.
3. He’s Survived by His Mother
Polo was a recreation, parks and tourism science major of the class of 2016. He graduated from Trinity High School in his native Euless, Texas in 2012. He is survived by his mother, Lima Uhatafe of Euless.
4. All of Those Involved in the Crash Were Very Close
All of the players involved in the crash were teammates at Trinity High School, helping the team to an unbeaten season in 2011. They were all of Pacific Islander descent, Euless has a vibrant islander population. The New York Times reported on the town in 2008:
Thirteen of the 24 Trinity players who have made all-state since the 1980s, and 16 members of the current roster, are of Tongan descent.
“When you think of Texas high school football, you think of country kids, farm kids; you don’t expect to see players from the South Pacific,” said Sioeli Pauni, who has two sons on the Trinity team.
The influence of the Pacific Islands in the town is reflected in the fact that the Trinity High School team perform a Haka, a traditional war dance, prior to games, usually synonymous with rugby teams.
5. Texas A&M’s Coach Has Expressed His Sadness
Texas A&M Coach Kevin Sumlin was extremely distressed at the news:
We lost a terrific young man, Polo was loved by his teammates and coaches. Anyone who came in contact with him was struck by his sense of humor and smile. My heart aches for his mom and family members.
6. Teammates, Coaches and Fans Are Tweeting Tributes
There has been an outpouring of emotion from players, coaches and fans on Twitter at the news of Polo’s death:
Heart hurts waking up to news about Polo.. I think I speak for everyone on our team when I say we love you brother you will be missed
— Johnny Manziel (@JManziel2) July 30, 2013
R.I.P. Polo smh another one gone too soon
— Steven Terrell (@SdotTerrell) July 30, 2013
My condolences and blessings to all the families associated with the tragic loss of lives within the Utah football program.
— Coach Mendenhall (@BYU_Football) July 30, 2013
7. Polo and His Party Were on a Weekend Trip to Utah
Judging by his Twitter feed, Polo and friends had taken a trip up to Utah to for the weekend:
It's always good to get away from the Texas Heat for the weekend. Utah got that breezeeeeeee I be feenin for in Texas
— Polo Manukainiu (@ManukainiuPolo) July 28, 2013
The trip ended with this fateful trip:
22 hour drive back to Texas on no sleep. Oh my
— Polo Manukainiu (@ManukainiuPolo) July 29, 2013
8. Polo Was Rated as a Four-Star Player
According to ESPN’s college scouting website, Polo was ranked as a four star (out of five) prospect. His main attributes included strength and defensive runs.
The analysis goes on to say:
Manukainiu is a good sized defensive line prospect who is productive in an almost unassuming way. He is a defensive end who could potentially develop into a defensive tackle.
9. He Was Set to Be a Star on One of the Best College Teams
According to pundits, this was going to be an exciting season for Polo and Texas A&M. Combined with the offensive prowess of Heisman-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel, the team’s defense was all being talked up. Having sat out the 2012 season as a redshirt, Polo was expected to play a big role this season.
10. An Investigation Into the Crash Will Continue
Alcohol has been ruled out as a cause of the crash and it appears that only the driver (who survived) was wearing a seatbelt when the crash occurred. It isn’t known if the driver was Salesi Uhatafe Sr. or his son.