They don’t remember the crash. Not the flames, the screams, the sirens. None of it.

They are both forever grateful for that.

Even the weeks after are a foggy blur. Heavy meds. In and out of consciousness. Unfamiliar eyes and voices in blue scrubs. Mom and dad’s teary smiles and squeezing hands. The eventual wondering about Tiago, Travis, Laci, Coach…all the Mustangs.

We just played, didn't we? Why am I here? Is this real or some f'd up nightmare?

When the fog starts to lift and the doctors and parents try to explain—quietly, cautiously, on verbal eggshells—they no longer yearn for answers. They want to go back to not knowing. Back to the fog. Because real is too hard.


It’s fall now. Six months after. Black Bear Ridge golf course near Belleville, Ont. One of those flawless stolen October days Canadian golfers devour. The twosome laugh and chirp each other relentlessly as a camera crew tags along. You can tell they have tons of game, even if it’s a little rusty. Their scars, physical and otherwise, are mostly hidden. The camera silhouettes a tee shot. The deep blue sky splashed with the odd cloud makes it all seem perfect.

Sometimes the sky lies.


Advance warning: you’ll probably get the boys mixed up while reading this. I still call them by each other’s name sometimes and it’s been 10 months since we met.

Dayton and Hayden. There’s the problem. They sound too much alike. Plus, they have similar personalities, at least on the surface. Kind, smart, funny, always ready to rip you if the opportunity presents. Like when they beat you in a golf pool.

It’s easier in person. Dayton Price is the one with the great lettuce. Hair ‘90s Jagr would envy.  Hayden Underhill’s is shorter, always buried beneath a ball cap. He doesn’t love people seeing the scar on his forehead. He’ll show you if you ask. But hed prefer not to have to explain.

“I don’t want to be known as ‘The Accident Kid,’” he says.

It’s one of the reasons (there are many) he thought long and hard before telling his story. Hayden just wants normal again.  Or whatever semblance he can find.

Dayton (the one with the flow…see, its hard already, isn’t it?) is different that way. Talking about what happened is therapy for him. Not easy. Never will be. But maybe reliving the pain might…numb it a little? Maybe.

A little fate, and a lot of golf, brought them together.

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Dayton Price grew up playing hockey in Hamilton, but soon became hooked on golf.

They are hockey players first, good ones. Dayton grows up in Hamilton, a centre who dabbles on D. Dad Darren coaches him all the way up. But then he starts hitting golf balls a mile. At 12, he signs up for a junior tour on Toronto public courses. He is bummed when he doesn’t win the first tournament. So he wins the next 10. Hooked.

Hayden is a Canadian kid cliché, too. Born and raised in Kingston, he’s a d-man for the Loyalist Jets, dreaming of being Erik Karlsson, until he realizes he doesn’t quite have EK’s wheels. So golf becomes the new dream. Jordan Spieth doesn’t need wheels.

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Hayden Underhill also grew up playing hockey, dreaming of being Erik Karlsson.

“My grandparents still tell me about the first time they took me out,” Hayden says. “After, they told my friends, ‘He’s not going to be a golfer. He’s not very good.’ But like they say, you hit one good shot and you’re addicted for life.”

The boys start playing the Ontario junior golf circuit in their early teens and end up in the same group a couple of times. Like each other right away. Exchange numbers. A few years later, Hayden commits to playing at a tiny school in New Mexico called The University of the Southwest (USW). When he checks the names of the other recruits, there is Dayton Price.

“It was really cool to be going to a different country where you don’t know anyone and you have a Canadian friend with you.” Dayton says.

“We just got along great right away,” Hayden says. “We’d give each other little jabs, trying to push each other to get better. We’d always try to play together to kick each other’s butt.”

The families become close, too. Moms Ornella Price and Wendy Underhill drop the boys off at USW together and bond over the angst of leaving their sons so far from home. That, and a Planes, Trains, and Automobiles-level travel adventure featuring flat tires, hotel power failures, almost setting rooms on fire, COVID-19 trouble, missed flights…and copious drinks and laughs because of all the above.

Their Canadian boys aren’t the only ones who have come a long way to chase the golf dream. Dayton and Hayden’s teammates at USW include Tiago Sousa from Portugal, Mauricio (Mau) Sanchez from Mexico, and Jackson Zinn from Colorado. Throw in a bunch of Texas kids and you have The Mustangs. Maybe because there are so many from so far, the team grows tight, fast.

“We were like a family,” Dayton says.

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It’s March 15, 2022, six months into the boys’ freshman season. The Mustangs play a tournament in Midland, Texas. They stop for dinner after, then hit the road for the 90-minute drive back to their campus in Hobbs, N.M. There are eight players from the men’s and women’s teams in the van, driven by their coach, 26-year-old Tyler James. Dayton and Hayden are sitting across from each other in the second row.

They are doing what teenagers do on long drives. Hanging out, talking about putts made and missed. Dayton is texting with his girlfriend Emma. Hayden puts in his headphones to listen to music.

“And that’s the last thing I remember.”

At 8:17 p.m., on two-lane Farm-To-Market Road 1788, deep in the West Texas plains, a white Dodge Ram pickup crosses the centre line and hits the Mustangs van head-on.

EMS call (excerpted):

Operator: “East 115 and 1788 we have two vehicles on fire and people trapped inside.”

Responding unit: “I can see the smoke, it looks like it’s just north of the intersection.”

EMS: “Responding units, it is going to be a head-on collision. Both vehicles fully engulfed at this time.”

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First responders at the scene of the crash on March 15, 2022.

Hayden is ejected from the van and launched 65 feet from the impact site. Somehow, he’s alive. He suffers a traumatic brain injury (TBI), multiple fractures to his face, and a broken ankle.

Dayton is among those trapped inside the wreckage as it burns. Though he has no memory of this now, he tells police the next day he kicked out the window of the van, and pulled himself out. An eyewitness comes upon the scene and sees Dayton trying to crawl back in to save his friends. But the fire is too intense. He crawls back across the road, away from the flames. Half his body is burned.

There are no more survivors. The other seven Mustangs in the van, and the two occupants of the pickup truck, a 38-year old man and his 13-year old son, die at the scene.

Responding unit: “We’re going to need two helicopters.”

Dayton is airlifted to the burn unit at University Medical Center in Lubbock, Texas. Hayden is flown to nearby Covenant Hospital, which specializes in neurological trauma. 

Three thousand kilometres away in two Ontario towns, cell phones light up in the middle of the night.


Ken Underhill doesn’t check his phone until early the next morning.  His wife Wendy has just dropped him off at his fire hall in Amherstview, west of Kingston. Two missed calls, two voicemails.

The first is from USW, telling him to call back as soon as possible. The second is from a hospital in Texas, saying Hayden had been in a serious accident.

“I called and reached a girl in emergency,” Ken says. “She told me Hayden was in critical condition on life support, with severe head trauma. My first thoughts were…that he was gone. Just listening to her sombre voice, I was sure we’d lost him.  I just said, ‘We’re on our way.’ And hung up.”

Wendy is still driving to her office when Ken calls. He tells her Hayden has been in an accident, but gives no details, knowing she is still on the road.

“Those 10 minutes to get back to Ken took forever, I was just crying and praying,” Wendy says. “He wouldn’t say anything until we got home. We went upstairs and woke up Hayden’s older  brother Drew. And Ken told us. It was the worst moment of my life.”

In a movie, the next scene would have the family at Hayden’s side in the hospital. But reality, especially pandemic reality, is plodding. And painful. Drew fails a Covid test at the airport in Toronto. He isn’t allowed on the plane, despite the tearful pleas of a desperate mom. They have to send him home to Kingston.

It takes Ken and Wendy 28 excruciating hours to get to Hayden. Twenty-eight hours, not knowing if their son is still alive. Unbearable. Unless there is no alternative but to bear it.

“When we finally got there, the head nurse came and asked ‘Are you Momma?’” Wendy says. “She held my hand and said, ‘Are you ready for this?’”


Ornella Price always keeps her phone on, next to her bed.  An old habit - her husband, Darren, travels a lot for work, and she worries. The call comes at 1:45 a.m. It’s the housing supervisor at the university. Ornella can’t comprehend the words she hears. How could anyone? Dazed, half asleep, world instantly shattered.

“The shock of them saying that your son has been in a horrific accident, that he is critically ill, severely burned,” Ornella says. “I just stopped listening and kept asking ‘Is he going to make it?’ And she just kept saying, ‘You need to get here as soon as possible.’ When I turned around after the call, my husband was at the end of our bed on his knees, praying.”

“The toughest part was waking up my daughter Noella and telling her,” Darren says, pausing after those words as his eyes well. “What do you say?”

They too face agonizing travel delays, including a seven-hour layover in Dallas before they can connect to Lubbock. One standby seat is found on an earlier flight. Darren and Ornella look at each other. Mom will go.

A team of medical workers meets Ornella on the way into the burn unit. They give her a drink of water, tell her to breathe, and take her in to see her son.

The photos from those first hours are tough to look at. For me, for you. Now imagine being mom, dad, sis.

Ornella steps inside Dayton’s room and finds a son she barely recognizes.

“He looked awful. He was burned so badly, bandaged head to toe. He was swollen everywhere, broken arm, broken orbital bone. But he looked at me and gave me a little smile. That was…everything.”

At the hospital down the road, Wendy walks into Hayden’s room and is crushed.

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“I said, ‘Hayden, it’s Mom, squeeze my hand if you can hear me.’ And he gave me a little squeeze."

“It was horrible. All the tubes coming out of him, his head all bandaged, lying there, lifeless. I held his hand and it was just dead weight. I talked to him and sang him a song that I used to sing to him when he was little.”

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine…

Doctors aren’t sure Hayden will make it. But a few days later, still in a medically induced coma, Wendy asks them if her son can hear her. They say yes.

“I said, ‘Hayden, it’s Mom, squeeze my hand if you can hear me.’ And he gave me a little squeeze. My tears just started flooding, knowing he knew I was there.”

But for both boys, the worst lies ahead. They don’t know their friends are all gone. It is days before they are well enough to be told.

“I just asked, ‘Where is everybody?’ Dayton says. ‘Where’s Tiago? Where’s Mau? Where’s Jackson? Where’s Travis? Where’s Karisa? Where’s Laci? Where’s Coach?’ And my dad said, ‘They’ve passed away.’”

“I didn’t really grasp what was going on,” Hayden says. “My whole team was gone. This can’t be real.”

The stages of grief came in a cluster. Disbelief, shock, anguish. With guilt not far behind.

“I couldn’t understand why we were the ones who were lucky,” Hayden says. “These families lost their kids. Why did we survive? There’s never going to be some lightbulb moment. It will never make sense.”

One of their first visitors in the hospital is Haydan Stone. His daughter, Laci, was one of the Mustangs killed in the crash. Dayton keeps telling him the same thing, over and over. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

“He was grieving his daughter but came to support us,” Dayton says. “It meant so much.”

The two Canadian friends lie in their hospital beds, broken. The only light comes from each other.

“When my parents told me Hayden had survived and was in the hospital across the street, that truly inspired me,” Dayton says.

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The doctor chooses his words carefully, telling Dayton he’ll have to fight to keep his legs. His response: “Bring it on."

The boys desperately need hope. They find it, in the game that brought them to New Mexico. Dayton and Hayden make a deal. They are going to get better. Ditch these hospitals. Play golf again. Together.

But quietly, Dayton’s parents fear their son may never play again. The doctor tells Darren the burns are so bad, they may have to amputate both legs. And because he’s an adult, they have to tell Dayton. That’s when the hockey guy comes out in dad.

“I told him, ‘You aren’t telling him that,’” Darren says. “‘That kid is fighting with everything he’s got. If you go in there and tell him you are going to take his legs, I’m going to knock you out right in front of him.’”

The doctor chooses his words more carefully, telling Dayton he’ll have to fight to keep his legs. His response: “Bring it on."

“The tank room was my version of hell,” Dayton says. “That’s where they take off the dressings and put new ones on. Mine were vacuum sealed. There was no skin at all left on my legs. It was just flesh. It was the most pain I’ve felt in my life. The nurses would ask what kind of music I like and then turn it up really loud. I found out later they do it so everyone else in the ICU won’t hear your screams.”

One night, they both get phone calls from Laurence Applebaum, the CEO of Golf Canada. He invites Dayton and Hayden to be his guests at the Canadian Open at Toronto in June. Now they have a goal, a target.

In the tiny glass window in Dayton’s room, his sister Noella writes the number of days until the Open. Every morning, she erases it and subtracts one.

“It was my motivation,” Dayton says.

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Two months in, a visitor limps into Dayton’s room in a walking boot. Wide grins fill both faces.  Hayden has been released from hospital.

“He was trying to eat his lunch but still couldn’t lift his arm, so I started feeding him,” Hayden laughs. “Then my dad walks in and says, ‘Hayden you aren’t eating his food are ya!’  We were making fun of each other like nothing had changed.”

They don’t talk about the crash on that visit. Or the next. A year later, they still haven’t.

“It’s too hard to go there with the guy who was sitting right across from me in the van,” Dayton says. “We’ll have that talk someday. But not now.”

The next time the two see each other, they are at The Canadian Open. Dayton is released after 86 days in hospital. Just in time. The family flies back to Canada, and drives straight to the tournament the next morning.

“We got to be there at 18 as the crowd chanted ‘Rory! Rory!’ As he won.” Dayton says. “It was an incredible way to come home.”

Hayden had improved enough to golf in the pro-am earlier that week. He is grouped with Canadian star Nick Taylor and Sebastian Munoz. His longtime coach Scott MacLeod is on his bag. When Hayden crushes his tee shot on the first hole, Adam Long, another tour player waiting in the group behind says, “You should be in the tournament.”

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The next time the two see each other, they are at The Canadian Open. Dayton is released after 86 days in hospital.

“To see him walk those fairways with Tour players, with a huge smile on his face, it made my summer,” MacLeod says. “I just sat back a few times to take it all in, the miracle it is that he is still here to do this.”

Hayden starts playing competitive tournaments again, too.

“I had to get right back out there. It’s my happy place. It’s where I can find peace, but also represent my teammates and carry on their legacies.”

“The first time he put the tee in the ground, I could barely even stand,” his dad Ken says. “I was just so proud to see him out there.”

The path back to the course is longer for Dayton. His leg wounds still have to be wrapped every day. He spends countless hours in physio, the gym, and the golf simulator with trainer Joe Costa and coach Chris Dickenson.

“Before we could teach him how to golf again, we had to teach how to walk again,” Joe says.

But in late December, Dayton tees off in a tournament at Innisbrook in Florida, where the PGA Tour plays the Valspar. He is allowed to use a cart. The legs are still a work in progress. But he ditches it, and walks up the 18th fairway in the final round. Remarkably, he would finish in second place. After putting out on 18, Dayton hugs his family, limps back to the green alone, takes a knee, and speaks to his teammates.

We did it guys. We did it.

“They are with me, every shot, every round. And they always will be.”

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I should have ended it there, right? Miraculous comeback complete. Reader gets satisfying happy ending.

But that’s not life.  And it’s definitely not Dayton and Hayden’s lives.

Dayton still faces a long, painful road. He has major complications with his legs, ankles, feet, and hips. Nerve damage before his skin grafts is impeding blood flow. There are more surgeries ahead.

Hayden still keeps that forehead scar hidden beneath his hat, so people often tell him, “You don’t even look like you’ve been in an accident!” They mean well, but they have no idea. The last year has been a struggle. He still won’t talk about what happened on road 1788 with his family. Still has headaches. The brain is a billion-piece puzzle. The injury was significant. The long-term impact is unknown.

“He’s not the same Hayden,” Wendy says. “His mannerisms are different. He’s not a patient person anymore. He’s a new Hayden, who we love. He’s just not my old Hayden.”

There’s anger, too. At the man who drove the pickup, Henrich Siemens. The National Transportation Safety Board ruled he had methamphetamine in his system at the time of the crash. Siemens had a history. According to Golf Digest, Gaines County Sheriff’s Department records say he once burnt his wife with a soldering torch. Another time, he held scissors to her neck. For the record, her support for him was unwavering after his death.

“I feel for his son but wish the father would have spent the rest of his life in prison,” Dayton says. “He got the easy way out.”

And guilt still rides along with the boys. There are monthly FaceTimes with the families of the Mustangs lost in the crash. They have all been endlessly supportive of Dayton and Hayden. But it’s awkward. To stare at their pained faces on the screen, knowing you still have what they lost.

“If we could go back to before, I would have wanted those parents to think that if anything ever happened to their kids, I would be able to help them, and I couldn’t,” Dayton says. “To this day, I have nightmares about fires and being stuck. Every time it ends the same way: me not being able to pull someone out of that van. And it kills me every time I wake up.”

One of the reasons Dayton and Hayden decided to tell their story is so their teammates won’t be forgotten. So they aren’t just “Seven members of a university golf team die…” in forever Google searches. They shared a memory of each of their friends.

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Laci Stone, 18

“She was one of the funniest people I’ve ever met,” says Dayton. “She had the same sense of humour as us, and we laughed endlessly.”

Mauricio Sanchez, 19

“Mau was from Mexico and he was always cold,” Hayden says. “The only pants he had first semester were these pyjama pants so he wore them all the time. It was hilarious.”

Karisa Raines, 21

“She was really nice,” Dayton says. “Loved these drinks from Taco Bell, Baja Blasts. After practice she’d always get one and she’d be so happy.”

Travis Garcia, 19

“He was quiet at first but really opened up,” Hayden says. “He loved wearing funky high socks with different colours and designs. We couldn’t wait to see which ones he’d pull out each day.”

Tiago Sousa, 18

“He was one of my closest friends,” Dayton says. “He loved to swim and after the Christmas break he came back with goggles and a swim cap. I think he really wanted to be Michael Phelps.”

Jackson Zinn, 22

“Good country boy at heart,” Hayden says. “Always cracking jokes. Loved his whisky. He was a lot of fun. There was never a dull moment with Jackson.”

Coach Tyler James, 26. 

“Just a fun guy who always kept it light, but he taught us a lot,” Hayden says.

“He loved taking us to Buffalo Wild Wings when it was half-price appetizers,” Dayton adds. “He’d always get cheese curds. Loved them.”

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It’s March 4, 2023. Almost a year since the crash. The boys and their families are back in Hobbs, N.M., at a memorial golf tournament for their teammates. Dayton and Hayden are introduced and get a warm ovation from the families, first responders, and local officials who have gathered. They aren’t sure how to feel.

“The entire day was definitely a whirlwind of emotions,” Hayden says. “A little bit of everything: happy, sad…weird.”

The next afternoon, they sneak out for one more round together. Their games are improving. Their chirps, still Tour quality.

The crash changed everything. Except the dream. They both still want to play professional golf.  Hayden, now 21, is going back to school next year, though not as far away. He’ll play for the University of Wisconsin-Parkside in Kenosha. He hopes he can just be “Hayden” there, not “The Accident Kid.” Dayton, 20, likely needs at least two more years of treatment and recovery before he can go back full-time.

“We may not see each other a ton, but I think we’re going to rely on each other for the rest of our lives,” Dayton says. “Because we’re the only ones who understand what we’re going through.”

“We’ll always be buddies, for sure,” Hayden says. “It’s maybe not the way we wanted to be bonded. But we’re bonded forever.”

New Mexico’s landscape is mostly bland, dry, and dusty. But the sunsets are screen-saver worthy. As the boys hit their shots, the backdrop is swirls of pink and purple. Everything looks perfect, again.

The sky still lies, sometimes.

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