A Blinn College cheerleader and his 18-year-old cousin who were killed in a New Year's Day car accident in East Texas were remembered Wednesday as accomplished young adults who had been best friends since childhood.
According to authorities, Jarred Pecina, 20, who was a cheerleader at Blinn College in Brenham, was driving his cousin, 18-year-old Valerie Jasso, home around 1:30 a.m. Monday. Pecina's car ran off the road, struck an embankment and crashed into a tree just outside Lufkin. The two were pronounced dead at the scene.
The accident remains under investigation.
Kelli McCleskey, Jasso's aunt and Pecina's cousin, told The Eagle that Pecina had a cheery, energized and positive air to him, always doing cartwheels even as a young child. He loved his immediate and extended family, and cared deeply for his cheer teammates.
"Jarred had a beautiful and contagious smile," McCleskey said. "It would glow. His personality just lit up the room the moment that he walked in."
Pecina decided when he was 4 that he wanted to be a cheerleader. He'd traveled across the country as a child for competitions, supported by his older brother and single mother, as his father had died when he was 3. He transferred high schools from Diboll to Lufkin in order to join a more elite cheer squad, and was part of national competitions that were featured in films that premiered annually at select movie theaters. He wrote several articles for a popular cheerleading blog site. He had been a part of Blinn College's "Buc Nation" cheerleading team and was hoping to eventually transfer to Sam Houston State University pursue a business degree.
"He was an 'All-American' type person," said Pecina's aunt Marina Cuevas, who is also Jasso's cousin. "... He was very bubbly and had a contagious smile. He was the life of the party and was friendly, easygoing. He didn't ever meet a stranger."
The family said the cousins were best friends and Jasso would beam with excitement when Pecina would come home from college to visit. Jasso, the daughter of a Conroe police officer, attended Diboll High School, where she was the captain of the soccer team and president of the Spanish club. Jasso and her father had discussed the possibility of her entering the Navy or Air Force after graduation.
McCleskey said she hopes people remembers the cousins for the way that they loved one another and their whole family. Cuevas said the family plans to hold joint funeral services for Pecina and Jasso on Saturday. Jasso will be laid to rest alongside her grandfather, and Pecina will be buried with the father he lost as a small child.
The family has opened GoFundMe accounts for each young victim, and a bake sale is being hosted today in Lufkin to help pay for funeral expenses.
Visitation will be from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at Carroway Funeral Home in Lufkin, where Rosary will be said at 7 p.m. Services will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Lottie & Arthur Temple Civic Center in Diboll.