Crash victim and soccer star from Hellertown remembered for drive, humility on and off field –

Bryan Franco, 25, of Hellertown died following a five-vehicle crash Wednesday, March 1, 2023 on Route 33 in Monroe County. (Photo Courtesy Gene Walsh)
A Hellertown man who was among three people pronounced dead in a five-vehicle wreck along Route 33 is being remembered as a soccer star, known to those close to him as a humble, driven personality on and off the field.
Coaches, friends and teammates at both Reading High School and Penn State Berks Athletics recalled 25-year-old Bryan Franco as someone who worked tirelessly to get the job done. He had a contagious sense of humor and enjoyed making his friends laugh, they said.
“I’m still processing all of it,” friend and former teammate, Antonio Gonzalez of Reading, told Thursday. " It just doesn’t seem real.”
Franco along with a 40-year-old woman and 14-year-old girl, both from Wilkes-Barre, lost their lives in the crash Wednesday morning just north of the Northampton-Monroe county line. Four vehicles were struck when a tractor-trailer crossed over from Route 33 South into the northbound lanes of the highway between Saylorsburg and Route 209, according to investigators. The tractor-trailer hit another tractor-trailer, a pickup truck and two passenger cars in the wreck, Pennsylvania State Police said.
Bryan Franco in this 2014 photo gets tossed into the air after scoring the District III AAA playoff game winning goal for Reading High School. Franco, 25, was one of three motorists pronounced dead following a crossover crash Wednesday, March 1, 2023 on Route 33 in Monroe County.
Franco played soccer in his youth for the Soccer Club of Reading and later, for Reading’s FC Revolution league. He played all four years for Reading High School’s Red Knights.
Mike Cahn, current coach of Reading High School’s boys soccer, told Friday morning the school and community are reeling from the tragedy. Under Cahn, Franco in 2014 led the team to become District III AAA Championship winners. Franco was thrown into the air by his teammates after scoring the District III AAA playoff game winning goal.
Franco went on to serve as the team’s captain the following year.
Among Franco’s many high school soccer accomplishments were becoming the 2014 All-Division I Forward — First Team; and 2015 All-Berks Forward — First Team. He had 46 career goals; 15 career assists; and 107 career points playing for Reading High School, Cahn said.
“We are all devastated by this horrible event,” Cahn said. “Bryan was a great soccer player, a great friend but even a better person. I would like Bryan to be remembered for the great soccer player he was and more importantly, the fine young man he was.”
Franco’s time with FC Revolution later led to a recruitment onto Penn State Berks County’s men’s team, said Adrian Munteanu, who coached Franco at Penn State.
For Penn State, Franco appeared in 18 games and started two of them as a freshman in 2016. He had two goals in total. He scored goals in both the team’s 5-0 victory over Lancaster Bible and their 7-1 victory over Penn State Abington.
Munteanu recalled Franco as a “polite, nice and quiet” person who was respectful toward teammates and coaches.
“My deepest and sincere condolences are going to his family in this extremely difficult time,” Munteanu said.
Antonio Gonzalez of Reading knew Franco most his life. Franco was the youngest child in his family with an older brother and an older sister, he said.
As youngsters, Gonzalez and Franco played soccer through Reading’s recreational leagues. Franco graduated from Reading High School in 2016, two years after Gonzalez. Gonzalez was in the same class as Franco’s older brother, Roy Junior Franco.
Teammates with Reading High School’s Red Knights, Gonzalez said Franco was nicknamed “Sniper” due to his speed and power in scoring goals. A lead scorer and one of the fastest players, Franco was extremely humble and didn’t like a lot of attention, Gonzalez recalled.
“He was a great friend,” Gonzalez recalled. “And soccer was his life. Even after high school, we still played and kicked around.”
Juanito Guzman of Reading also began playing soccer with Franco when the boys were just 9 years old. Like Gonzalez, his cousin, Hernandez also played with Franco through Reading High School and later with the FC Revolution League.
Hernandez said Franco had almost like a switch in him because when he started playing at a young age, he was much more reserved than in his older years. After years of hard work, dedication and resilience, Franco began blossoming by his second and third youth seasons, Hernandez recalled.
“He would drop goals from left to right,” Hernandez said. “He always kept his cool and didn’t fear pressure by defenders. He was also a great team player, not just individual. And yes, his speed was incredibly fast.”
Hernandez said about a year ago, he learned Franco was moving to Hellertown but didn’t know the details. Franco was excited to get an apartment in the Lehigh Valley, his friend said.
“He always had a smile,” Hernandez said.
Ates Gonzalez of Reading also recalled Franco as a great friend and equally as great of a soccer player. He met Franco through a friendship with older brother Roy. Everyone seemed to know Bryan Franco, including many of Ates Gonzalez’s mutual friends.
“He was exceptional on and off the field,” Ates Gonzalez said. “Bryan had a high game IQ and would find space in the box like an elite goal scorer — would take risks and was cold-blooded in the box, something only great players have. He would take his chances and run through defenders while always coming in clutch for his team.”
As the pair grew older, Ates Gonzalez said he ran into Franco less frequently. When they did bump into each other once every year or so, Franco always greeted him with a warm “hello” and hug.
“He will be missed,” Ates Gonzalez said.
Friends and family plan to gather for a viewing 11 a.m. to noon Sunday at Cramp-Hummel Funeral Home, Inc. in Reading.
Franco’s car and another car driven by Samantha Crich, 40, of Wilkes-Barre, ended up under the tractor-trailer in the cross-over crash, state police said. Franco was taken to Lehigh Valley Hospital-Pocono in East Stroudsburg where he was pronounced dead, Monroe County Coroner Thomas Yanac Jr. said.
Crich was pronounced dead Wednesday night at Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest in Salisbury Township, the Lehigh County Coroner’s Office said. A 14-year-old girl from Wilkes-Barre, a front-seat passenger in Crich’s vehicle, was also killed, and was pronounced dead at the crash scene. Yanac said he was not releasing the girl’s identity.
Crich died from multiple blunt force injuries from the crash and her death was ruled an accident, Lehigh County Coroner Daniel Buglio said. Franco and the girl’s autopsies were also completed, but Yanac said their causes and manners of death were pending the results of the ongoing investigation into the crash.
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