Player’s death shocks O.C. school

There were two minutes left in Friday night’s football game between Garden Grove and host Westminster High School.

In Garden Grove’s last offensive play -- a long pass -- senior fullback Kevin Telles, 17, charged up from the 30-yard line to block his opponents. Then he abruptly fell, face down and motionless, on the 25-yard line. Several witnesses said he collapsed without sustaining a hit from another player.

When he didn’t get up, coaches from both teams rushed onto the field with the team physician as Telles began to convulse. Moments later, witnesses said the doctor could be heard saying, “No pulse, no pulse.”

Medical personnel began administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation. The referees stopped the game. Telles was taken by ambulance to Huntington Beach Hospital, and “the people in the stands fell into a silent prayer,” says Mark Samala, 31, who photographed the tragedy as it unfolded. “The members of both teams were crying. It was heartbreaking.”


Telles was pronounced dead at 10:25 p.m., authorities said.

An autopsy was conducted on the 5-foot-11, 200-pound senior Saturday, but the results were withheld pending completion of toxicology tests, which could take several weeks, said Orange County Deputy Coroner Larry Esslinger.

Telles’ friends, family and team members were still in shock over the tragedy and couldn’t shake memories of his last moments. Among the mourners was Ron Vander Sluis, athletic director at La Quinta High School and former coach at Garden Grove.

“It seemed like a normal play,” Vander Sluis said. “People thought maybe it was just a stinger, like an ankle sprain, and he was trying to collect himself. You know, suck it up and then get back in the game.”


Instead, Vander Sluis was among dozens who followed Telles to the hospital and gathered in the lobby Friday night, hoping for the best.

“It was a huge crowd,” said Vander Sluis, fighting back tears. “The whole team was there, along with the cheerleaders. Parents, administrators and coaches showed up.”

“He was a great kid, a great football player,” added Vander Sluis, who coached Telles for three years. “He would do anything you would ask him to do.”

On Saturday, friends and relatives gathered around a makeshift memorial outside Garden Grove High School’s main office, which was decorated with balloons, candles and flowers. A steady stream of mourners paid tribute, some hugged, others placed a comforting hand on one another’s backs.

Cheerleaders from a cross-town rival, Santiago High School, added red roses to the memorial and unfurled a banner: “In loving memory of Kevin ‘Troy’ Telles.”

“I don’t know of anyone who did not like him,” said Ludwing Ronces, a Garden Grove senior. “He was cheerful all the time, and he got along with everybody.”

Dante Russomanno, one of Telles’ teammates, left a handwritten note at the memorial that read: “You’ll always be in our hearts. We will play for you every day. [Your] smile will never be forgotten.”

Telles’ brother, Robert, described his family as “grief-stricken but strong. It’s a heavy blow, but we’ll come out strong.”


On Saturday, Coach Joe Hay gathered his team members together at the school and asked them to write tributes to Telles, which Hay would deliver to the family.

Later they converged on the football field’s 50-yard line and swapped stories about the young man they recalled as a hard-nosed player with a light-hearted personality.

“He made us laugh during hard times, during tough times,” Hay said, tearing up, “but he played football hard. He was everything that as a coach you could want.”

Garden Grove was leading 9-0 when the game was halted.

A memorial service will be held for Telles at 6:15 p.m. today at St. Columban Catholic Church in Garden Grove.