He was attending a Florida flight school, and she was at Rutgers University in New Jersey, but although separated by distance, Carlos Ramirez and Lori Letavish were never really apart.
“We were like Siamese twins,” said Letavish, a lifelong Guttenberg resident. “He’s my best friend and my fiancé. I spoke with him every day down there.”
The couple was inseparable since they hooked up as 13-year-olds, attended High Tech High School in North Bergen, and graduated together in 2001.They became engaged last September and were planning to be wed in May of 2005.
“I used to tease them, because they were always together,” said Vince Nardiello, a guidance counselor at High Tech. “If you looked for them and saw one of them, then you were bound to see the other.”
Letavish said that she spoke with her fiancé every night since he started attending the Pan Am Flight Academy in Fort Pierce, Fla.
“I spoke with him Sunday on the way to the airport,” Letavish said.
Ramirez, a Guttenberg resident who had already received his private pilot’s license, was set to take a regular training flight with his instructor.
“He needed to build his hours,” Letavish said. “He needed to work on his instrument ratings.”
But when Letavish didn’t receive a call from her fiancée either Sunday night or Monday morning, she knew something was wrong.
“I was waiting for a phone call from Carlos,” Letavish said. “When I didn’t hear anything, I started to worry.”
In the early hours Monday morning, the 20-year-old Ramirez, his instructor, Louis Angel Serrano, 29, and another student pilot, 24-year-old Ann Marie Boshah of Montreal, were aboard a single-engine plane that crashed into a citrus grove near Port St. Lucie International Airport.
Ramirez and his instructor were killed in the crash. Boshah, who was seated in the rear of the plane, walked away with minor injuries.
According to reports from the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office, the cause for the crash of the four-seat 2002 Piper Archer plane hasn’t been found, and representatives from the National Transportation Safety Board have taken over the investigation. It is not known whether the plane was taking off or landing at the time of the accident.
Letavish said Ramirez always wanted to be a pilot. He just had completed two years at the College of Aeronautics in Teterboro and was in the middle of a nine-month course in Florida.
“I told him that it was crazy and that it was dangerous,” Letavish said. “But he insisted that it was what he wanted to do, and I supported him from that day on. He always said that he just wanted to fly.”
Nardiello reiterated those dreams. “Ever since he was a freshman in high school, he told me all he wanted to do was to become a pilot,” Nardiello said. “In fact, he wanted to go into the military to learn how to become a pilot, but his mother thought it was too dangerous.”
Nardiello was very saddened by the loss of his former student. “It’s a sad situation,” Nardiello said. “I’m sort of numb by it. I can’t understand how something like this could happen.”
Ramirez was a standout soccer player who played for North Bergen High School, earning All-County honors from the Hudson County Coaches’ Association in his senior year. Ramirez, who originally attended North Bergen before transferring to High Tech as a junior, was eligible to play for North Bergen because High Tech didn’t field a varsity team at the time.
“He was a great kid with a great head on his shoulders,” said North Bergen soccer coach John Belluardo. “All the kids loved him. He was a dedicated soccer player who wanted to have something to have in the future. Being a pilot wasn’t something he just dreamed up. He always wanted it. He was headed in the right direction of what he wanted in life. It’s so unfortunate that he’s gone and he’s only 20 years old.”
Belluardo, whose family also owns a travel agency, made the arrangements for the Ramirez family to fly to Florida to claim Ramirez’ body.
“I know the family very well and they’re all devastated,” Belluardo said. “I don’t think it’s really going to hit them until they get home.”
High Tech Principal Karol Brancato said that her close-knit school was “in shock” over Ramirez’s passing.
“Carlos and Lori had such a huge impact on the teachers that are still here,” Brancato said. “The students are sad, knowing their lives have been touched by the loss of someone so young. I received about 10 e-mails from former students offering their condolences. He was a member of our family here and this loss has a profound effect on everyone.”
“He was just a polite and nice kid,” Nardiello said. “He was a kid that everyone respected and liked. As a guidance counselor, we try to get to know each kid on a personal level, try to get to know what they’re dreams are. There was never any question about Carlos’ dreams.”
Letavish, a psychology major at Rutgers, is still trying to come to grips with her loss.
“I’m only starting to believe it today,” Letavish said. “I was still hoping that I would get a phone call from him saying that he was alright. He was a caring, kind-hearted soul who always put everyone ahead of him. He never looked for any trouble and never caused trouble.”
Vainieri Funeral Home in North Bergen was scheduled to hold the wake, with the funeral mass scheduled for Saturday at St. Mary’s Church in West New York.
Aside from Letavish, Ramirez is survived by his parents, Hector and Rosa, and his sister, Erica Orrego.