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In spite of virus, Berkley finds a way to mourn teens lost

Days after a car crash killed two Berkley teenagers, best friends and recent high school graduates, the small town came together to mourn despite COVID-19 restrictions meant to keep people apart.

On Friday evening, Christian Couto, 19, and Devyn Crosby, 18, died in a fiery crash as they struck a tree on Sandford Street, according to Gregg Miliote, a spokesman for District Attorney Thomas M. Quinn III. Both were declared dead on scene.

A third teen, described as a close friend by family of one of the dead teenagers, was taken to Rhode Island Hospital, where he was listed in stable condition Saturday, according to Miliote. The cause of the crash was still under investigation.

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Briana Crosby, Crosby’s sister, described the two teens who lost their lives as lifelong best friends, “basically like brothers.” The third teen was also a friend from their early years, she said, in a Facebook message.

Crosby had been studying psychology at Bristol Community College in Fall River, she said, but his true passions were cars, basketball, and fishing with their father.

“My brother was a sweet, kind-hearted soul," she said. “He was loved by so many people. His smile made a huge impact on my family and the community,” she said.

On Sunday, the community found a way to mourn the deaths that rocked Somerset Berkley Regional High School, from which all three graduated last year. In another tragedy at the high school this month, a current junior at the school died after "a courageous battle with cancer” on March 18, according to the school’s acting principal, Susan Brelsford.

The town’s emergency dispatcher, who declined to give her name, said police were forced to break up a gathering of about 60 young people on the town common Saturday. Instead, authorities organized a procession Sunday that drew as many as 200 cars and a dozen town vehicles that drove past the houses of of all three. Officials did not respond to requests for comment Saturday and Sunday.

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“There has been quite a show of support,” said Brelsford. Many houses in both Berkley and Somerset, a neighboring town that shares the high school, followed her call to light candles in commemoration of over the weekend of the three teens who lost their lives this month.

Josh Bumpus, a basketball teammate of Couto and Crosby, remembered his longtime friends in a text Sunday as “some pretty good ball players."

“But it was off the court where they really shined,” he said. “Everyone loved them. They both had the most infectious smiles. They weren’t only my teammates but my brothers."

Neighbors rushed to the scene where Coutos crashed his father’s car on Friday night, including the fire chief of another town who lives down the street. A Berkley police office plunged into the flaming wreck to try to save the two, pulling out one body before fire engulfed the BMW, according to the district attorney’s office.

A makeshift memorial of athletic jerseys, flowers, and a cross mark the site now, according to Patrick Lofgren, 39, who lives about 30 feet away down the “small-town back road" that grows curvy in the section where the crash occurred.

His girlfriend, he said, was the first person to arrive at the scene, but neither wanted to discuss it.

He said they are both experiencing “probably what everyone in Berkley is feeling and going through.”

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“Not being able able to have those gatherings and vigils, and be close with neighbors and friends makes it that much more challenging,” he said.

But that could not stop the community from remembering the teenagers.

Bumpus, their former teammate, remembered the two close friends vying to be able to dunk. “Devyn just started able to dunk and Christian swore he could dunk if it wasn’t for his bad knees,” he said.

"They will forever be in my hearts and my [brothers] for ever. I love them,” Bumpus said.

Their high school basketball coach, Bob Slater, called Couto and Crosby “leaders on the court and in the locker room" in an e-mail Saturday.

Briana Crosby said the community has stepped up to remember both men.

“They have been extremely supportive,” she said. “People who weren’t even close to Devyn and Christian came out and supported us. And they were both amazing I can tell the boys were very loved.”

Even the pervasive COVID-19 worries were all but forgotten amid the tragedy.

“I have not had any concerns about this virus,” she said. “I am just trying to celebrate my brother.”


Lucas Phillips can be reached at lucas.phillips@globe.com.