MARBLEHEAD — Marblehead High School senior James Galante had a lot to celebrate.
On Thursday, his photograph was published in the local newspaper to announce his plans to play football next fall at Denison University in Granville, Ohio. His high school football career ended victoriously in December at Gillette Stadium, where he and his team were crowned Division 3 Super Bowl champions.
It was also St. Patrick’s Day, and Galante ran into his track and field coach Nolan Raimo in the weight room. The spring season was set to begin in a few days.
And then there was the Senior Show. Two years after the COVID-19 pandemic pushed schools into remote learning, Marblehead’s Class of 2022 was staging a performance and Galante, 18, was there for the celebration.
But after midnight ticked by and Galante was still out early Friday, his father said he texted his son and asked him to come home. The younger Galante didn’t respond, Jim Galante said Saturday in a phone interview.
“Then I fell asleep, and then, the next knock at the door was the police,” he said.
James Galante was driving to his family’s home on Marblehead Neck, his father said, when his vehicle crashed on the causeway that cuts across the Atlantic Ocean. The vehicle came to a stop on the harbor side of the road where a low concrete wall separates the street from the water.
Officers went to the crash site at about 3 a.m. Friday, police said, after getting a report about a vehicle that had gone off the causeway. James Galante was the sole occupant of the vehicle, which had “extensive damage,” police said.
He was taken by ambulance to Salem Hospital with serious injuries, his father said. Because of the foggy conditions, a helicopter ride to a hospital with a trauma center wasn’t an option, Jim Galante said.
After five hours in Salem, Jim Galante said his son was stable enough for the medical flight to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
“We were so hopeful because he was flying away on the helicopter and we’re like, oh my God, he’s going to Mass General; he made it to Mass General,” he said. “And as soon as we got there, they [said], ‘Oh no. He’s gone.’”
“I’m just so sick,” Jim Galante said.
He said he’s been driving the causeway for two decades and never considered its exposure to the water on the harbor side until his son’s crash.
“If there was a railing there or the wall was higher... he would still be alive,” he said.
On Saturday morning, bouquets of red and white carnations and candles were left on the causeway at a black lamppost, which had been wrapped in a black and white Marblehead football shirt.
Marblehead police Chief Dennis King released a statement, saying there’s an active investigation into the crash by local detectives and the Massachusetts State Police. A final report, he said, may take weeks to complete and he urged anyone with information about the crash to contact the police department.
King said his daughter is also a high-school senior.
“My wife and I are heartbroken for the Galante Family as we reflect and head into the end of her high school years, just as they should be doing,” his statement said. “I can only offer my family’s heartfelt condolences, and assurances that we will conduct a complete and thorough investigation.”
A vigil honoring James Galante was held Friday evening at Our Lady Star of the Sea, the church where all four Galante children were baptized, Jim Galante said.
At a vigil Saturday evening at the high school, Galante was mourned largely in silence, with students sharing hugs and comforting each other in low voices.
Hundreds filled the gymnasium, where a white banner that read “19 Forever In Our [heart symbol]” hung on the wall.
Students lined up to write messages on the white banner, which also had a picture of Galante in his uniform. A second banner, this one with a photo of the 2021 Marblehead football team, was hung up next to it.
Handmade signs filled the walls, some reading “We love you James,” “We’ll miss you James,” and “Forever a Magician,” a nod to the school’s nickname.
After about 50 minutes, the gathering moved outside to the football field, where people stood in light rain and fog. Students gathered on the 50 yard line and placed dozens of candles on the turf.
A bundle of white balloons was released into the air, drifting east and up through the fog hovering around the shining stadium lights, before disappearing into the sky.
After nearly two hours, the crowd had thinned, but several remained huddled near the candles in the middle of the field. Galante’s football teammates were among the last to leave.
“Words can’t really describe what all of us are feeling right now,” said Craig Michalowski, a senior captain for the team. “He’s such an important person to all of us.”
Another teammate, Aven Denbow, a junior, said Galante “was a truck” on the football field. Off the field, he could easily lift the spirits of his friends and teammates with a joke.
“Whenever his mouth opened, he was making somebody laugh,” Denbow said. “His laugh was contagious.”
Grief counselors were at the school on Friday and Saturday, and would be available on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., school officials said.
Jim Galante said he coached youth sports for all his children, assisting from the sidelines at football, baseball, and basketball games. From 1995 to 2006, Jim Galante said he was a national account executive for Globe Direct, which is a part of Boston Globe Media Partners.
James Galante began playing football in second grade and planned to study physics in college, his father said. He wore the number 19, and admired Barry Sanders, a retired running back for the Detroit Lions.
When he was younger, James Galante was given a nickname, “Big Game James.”
“When the game is on the line, he’s the guy you want to give the ball to,” his father said.
Raimo, Marblehead’s track and field coach, said James Galante was named “rookie of the year” at the conclusion of his first track season in 2020. He was presented with the honor at a banquet held a day before a state of emergency was declared in Massachusetts because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Everything he had, he put into running. He just put the bar of effort so high it was like the tide that raises all boats,” Raimo said. “When you see someone work that hard, you ask yourself, ‘Can I push myself a little bit harder?’”
On Friday evening, Raimo said e-mailed the track and field team about Galante’s death. Raimo shared the e-mail with the Globe.
“I opened my notes from the 2019-2020 season where I wrote my rookie of the year speech for James, and have 4 circles and 5 stars surrounding the sentence: ‘Hard work is hard to hide; and it is impossible to watch a practice or a meet without acknowledging the sheer drive and willpower of Galante,’” Raimo wrote.
Jim Galante recalled sitting with his wife and children on the 50-yard line at Gillette Stadium and watching his son and his teammates defeat North Attleborough to win the Division 3 state football crown.
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world. It was a fantastic game,” he said.
He went on: “James had an extraordinary amount of tackles during the game against their best running back.”
The COVID-19 pandemic had been rough on his son, Jim Galante said, but his high school experience was on track to end on a high note with better grades and the opportunity to play football in college.
“Everything was going in the right direction,” he said. “It’s just so sad.”
Kathy McCabe of the Globe staff contributed.