SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – Friends and family are grieving the loss of a 23-year-old Santa Fe man who was killed Saturday night after police say a wrong-way driver hit him head-on.
According to police Anton Gress never saw it coming and neither did the people who knew him.
“He was a big part of making this place the beautiful place that it is,” Mateo Miller said.
Miller worked with Gress for the last year at the Izanami restaurant in Santa Fe. But he’s known him a lot longer than that.
“My son grew up skateboarding with him from a young age,” Miller said.
According to Miller, Gress had recently moved back to New Mexico after attending college in California.
Miller said the last two days of work have been tough.
“It was the most difficult day of work I’ve ever had,” Miller said “I had a hard time keeping it together when a customer used the line he would always use and said ‘Thank you, thank you.’”
Santa Fe police said Gress was driving northbound on I-25 Saturday night, near the Old Pecos Trail exit, when a wrong-way driver hit him head-on. Police reports state both SUV’s caught fire. According to police, Gress was pinned inside his Volkswagen SUV and still conscious when they arrived on scene. One officer reported hearing a Gress yell, “Help me, help me.”
Police tried to pull him from the SUV as they used their fire extinguishers on the flames but had to retreat when the fire blew up.
Friends like Miller don’t want to think about that night, instead they want to remember Gress as a lover of music and the outdoors.
“We’ve lost so many musicians lately,” one of his co-workers said. “I like to think they needed a DJ too.”
For Miller, Gress was the person who always made others smile.
“Always, ‘So thank you Anton, thank you thank you,'” he said.
Police identified the wrong way driver was 44-year-old Clara Avina. She also died at the scene. According to police reports, Avina’s family said she had been drinking before the crash but police haven’t said how the family knows that or where she was drinking.