For the four inseparable Burnsville teenage boys, Wednesday was just a lazy summer day spent cliff-diving and swimming on the Cannon River. But on the way home, the SUV they were riding in went out of control, killing one teen and injuring three others.

And on Thursday evening, hundreds of Burnsville High School classmates and parents gathered on a field alongside the athletic stadium to grieve after learning that 17-year-old Ty G. Alyea, who was a passenger in the SUV, had died and his friend, Cole. A. Borchardt, 18, who also was a passenger, was in critical condition at Regions Hospital.

Neither Alyea, an incoming senior and standout high school baseball player, nor Borchardt, a hockey star as a Burnsville High senior last season, were wearing seat belts, according to the State Patrol.

Matthew G. Berger, 17, who was the driver, was in fair condition, as was a third passenger, Tylan A. Procko, 17. The patrol said those two were wearing their seat belts when the crash occurred about 9:40 p.m. at 180th Street in Coates as the boys headed north on Hwy. 52 from the Cannon River, south of the Twin Cities. Authorities said the driver lost control of the SUV, sending it rolling until it came to rest in the southbound lanes.

By early Thursday morning, news of the accident was spreading quickly among Burnsville students and parents. And by evening they came together on a school practice field, where Alyea played football his freshman and sophomore years. The crowd came to grieve, embrace and support one another and Alyea's family, who filed out of a school bus that Alyea's mom drives.

Overwhelmed and grateful for the community's support, the teen's father, Greg Alyea, broke the hushed conversations of those grappling with a teenager's death.

"We don't want his death to be in vain," his father told the crowd that encircled the family.

"If you're the driver of a vehicle … please make sure your occupants are buckled in or don't drive until they are.

"He may have been alive today if he had been strapped in."

But the father blames no one. "I love these guys," he said of the friends, "and I don't want them to feel guilty that my son was the only one who didn't walk away."

State Patrol Lt. Eric Roeske said Alyea and Borchardt were seated in the back and were thrown from the SUV. The lieutenant said that "for some reason [passengers] are less likely to wear seat belts in the back," even though belts are legally required regardless of where a passenger is seated.

There was no alcohol use detected among the driver or any of the passengers, the patrol added.

A somber vigil

In a show of emotional strength, Alyea's family talked about the loss of a son, a brother, a cousin — a kid who was a prankster, an athlete and "just a great kid."

Never mind that he barely grunted one- or two-word sentences when he talked to his family. Typical teenage boy. "He was hard to love sometimes," his father said.

But the lesson is this: "If you ever have a chance to give them that one hug … do it. Just do it. It doesn't matter if the kid doesn't want it or has an attitude. Show your love … Because they may not be here tomorrow."

The same advice goes for kids, Greg Alyea said: "Turn and say I love you to your mom and dad."

Ty Alyea did that in his own way, his mother said. "Every time I would mouth the words, 'I love you,' he would just give me a grin like, 'I know mom,' every time," Lori Alyea said.

Teen was 'a role model'

With a wreath, flowers and photos of Ty Alyea placed next to the goalpost, friends, family and coaches talked about Alyea's natural athletic talent.

"I know I'm just the parent," Greg Alyea said. "But I just loved the way he played defense on that baseball diamond. He was so smooth — almost from the age of 9 when he stepped foot out there. … The coach said, 'This kid is going somewhere.' "

Before his senior season at Burnsville High, Alyea was being recruited by a handful of colleges as a pitcher and infielder, said his coach, Mick Scholl. But more than his accomplishments on the diamond, Alyea "made an impact on a lot of people's lives," Scholl said. "I've heard the other guys call him the Derek Jeter of the team."

The coach knew Alyea as a teenager who "was making good choices," Scholl said. "He led by example. That's such a plus when you have a young man who can be such a role model in many ways, not just on the field or in a uniform."

Borchardt was the hockey team's second-leading scorer last season. He was drafted this spring by the Chicago Steel of the USHL, the top junior league in the nation.

The others were juniors last school year at Burnsville. Berger was a goalie with the hockey program. Procko played on the high school baseball team and also skated for a community hockey team.

Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788 Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482