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Two students killed in crash likely to get posthumous degrees

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For the family and friends of Briana Hillard and Matthew Grant, Monday is sure to be bittersweet when the University of New Mexico Board of Regents is expected to award posthumous degrees to both students.

The two 21-year-old UNM students were killed late last year when their car was broadsided near Old Town by a stolen pickup truck. Two other UNM students, Joseph Mendoza and Julia Thompson, were badly injured in the collision.

“What a tragic, unnecessary loss, so senseless,” Regent Suzanne Quillen said Friday. “I remember when we got the calls about Briana and Matthew, and the two students who were severely injured. It was just heartbreaking.”

Noting that the process for awarding such degrees includes vetting through five separate levels, Quillen said she can’t imagine the regents turning down the requests. Moreover, she said, the two were both excellent students.

GRANT: Was studying for a BA in sociology

GRANT: Was studying for a BA in sociology

UNM President Bob Frank also had nothing but praise for Hillard and Grant.

“Briana and Matthew were two extraordinary students, who touched so many lives within our campus community,” he said. “The awarding of their degrees, as members of the class of 2015, will honor all that they accomplished at UNM and memorialize their lives as Lobos.”

Richard L. Wood, chairman of the sociology department, in one application wrote, “I hereby request the posthumous award of a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology to Matthew Grant.

“At the time of his death, Mr. Grant was a student in good standing … and was within a semester or two of completing his degree,” Wood said. “By all accounts, Mr. Grant was a fine student and a delight to have in the classroom. His tragic death represents a loss to the University and to the people of New Mexico; we would like to honor his memory by awarding him this posthumous degree.”

Robert DelCampo, associate dean of the Anderson School of Management, submitted the formal request for Hillard’s bachelor of business administration degree with a concentration in marketing management.

HILLARD: Was a business admin student

HILLARD: Was a business admin student

“Ms. Hillard was a student in degree status and in good standing as a student at Anderson School of Management in the academic year prior to her death … . Ms. Hillard completed 82 hours and had 46 credits remaining to complete her degree. She had a cumulative GPA of 3.07,” he said.

Police said 21-year-old Joshua Leal was driving the stolen pickup when he slammed into Hillard’s car shortly before midnight on Nov. 21. Leal and a 16-year-old passenger, Miguel Hernandez, fled from the vehicle but were quickly found in a nearby neighborhood.

Leal told police he had smoked pot a few hours before the crash and marijuana was found in his pocket. The District Attorney’s Office reported that he had methamphetamine in his system, as well. There also was a stolen firearm in the vehicle, police said.

Leal is charged with homicide by vehicle, unlawful taking of a motor vehicle, tampering with evidence, larceny and child abuse – altogether eight felony charges.

Hillard, Grant, Mendoza and Thompson were on their way to a party when the crash occurred.