HACKENSACK, N.J. — A University of North Carolina cheerleader died Monday morning, three days after being hit by a sport utility vehicle while attending the Tar Heels appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
Jason Kendall Ray, a 21-year-old senior from Concord, was returning to his hotel in Fort Lee, N.J., after a Friday afternoon trip to a convenience store when he was struck from behind by an SUV on a highway.
Ray has portrayed UNC's Rameses mascot for three years. He was in New Jersey for the men's basketball team's Friday night game against the University of Southern California at Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford.
More than two dozen family members and friends held a bedside vigil Sunday for Ray at Hackensack University Medical Center. A group of about 40 people attended a prayer session held on the UNC campus Sunday afternoon.
Ray was pronounced dead at 8:38 a.m. Monday. His organs were donated to Sharing Network of New Jersey. According to the Daily Tar Heel, a memorial service is tentatively scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday on the steps of Wilson Library.
"Jason was a wonderful son, brother and friend. He leaves behind a legacy of friendship, laughter, excitement for life and a genuine love for all the people he touched during his all-too-short life," Ray's brother, Allen Ray, said in a statement released by UNC's athletic department.
"Jason gave Rameses an energy that was unique," UNC cheerleading coach Brown Walters said. "He embodied all of the qualities you would want in a team member. He was a tremendous ambassador of the University of North Carolina, and that spirit will live on forever."
"This is a devastating loss to the Ray family and our university community," UNC athletics director Dick Baddour said. "Jason had many talents. Over the last several days, we have heard from so many people who said Jason went above the call of duty to brighten their days and make their child smile and laugh. He may have performed in the anonymity that comes with playing the mascot, but his life has had an overt and lasting impact on the people whose lives he touched."
"My heart goes out to Jason's family," UNC men's basketball coach Roy Williams said. "He was an engaging young man and a friend to a number of our players and managers. They tell me he was a wonderful person."
Close friends of Ray called his death unimaginable and unfair.
"He had such amazing charisma. He was so funny and great with people -- so spontaneous," said Stephanie Wheeler, who also portrayed Rameses. "(He was) one of the best mascots I've ever seen, really the heart and soul of Rameses."
"He was just there to cheer on the team and make everyone happy because he was the mascot, and instead, he ends up getting hit by a car and dying," UNC junior Sally Beth Moore said.
No charges have been filed in the accident, which police said remains under investigation.
In lieu of flowers, donations should be made to the Jason Kendall Ray Memorial Fund, Concord Christian Church, 3101 Davidson Highway, Concord, NC 28027.