Cadet killed in Kingston crash a 'fierce competitor,' former coach says

Andrei Honciu was supposed to be among the approximately 280 graduating fourth-year students at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont., until tragedy struck last week.

Andrei Honciu 1 of 4 military school students who died after vehicle went into water

Andrei Honciu was identified as one of the four officer cadets who died after a vehicle crashed into the water on the Royal Military College campus in Kingston, Ont., last week. (Submitted by Department of National Defence)

When Paul Zalewski learned Andrei Honciu was one of the four officer cadets who died on campus last week at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont., he flashed back to Honciu's days as a "fierce competitor" on his high school soccer team. 

Zalewski, a teacher at Northern Secondary School in Toronto, also instructed Honciu in English. But it was on the soccer field "where you really saw him come to life," Zalewski said. 

"He was just so much fun to be around on the field."

Honciu died last Friday in a single-vehicle incident that remains under investigation by the independent arm of the Canadian Forces Military Police. 

A vehicle carrying him and fellow fourth-year officer cadets Jack Hogarth, Andrés Salek and Broden Murphy went into the water at about 2 a.m. off Point Frederick, a peninsula that sits between Kingston Harbour and Navy Bay on the St. Lawrence River.

Overnight, a 2022 senior class that was expected to graduate approximately 280 students saw its ranks drop tragically. 

In Grade 11, Honciu, third from the right in the top row, and his high school team won a regional championship. His coach Paul Zalewski is at the far right in the top row. (Submitted by Paul Zalewski)

Zalewski said he couldn't believe the news, calling Honciu "the perfect kind of high school student."

"He took school very seriously and he threw himself at his passions," he said. "In some ways, I kind of hold him up as a model to others."

Honciu helped his soccer team win a regional championship in his third year of high school. Zalewski recalled Honciu agreeing to relinquish his position as a goal-seeking striker to instead provide assists.

He was just one of those people who would make everyone laugh.- Noah Kim

"It's not easy getting kids of his calibre to make that change. And he was critical to the team, but he did it."

When the team finally played at the city championship several months later, the field was under a layer of snow, Zalewski said. 

"Everyone's freezing, but Andrei, he's got this big smile. And he was where he wanted to be." 

Proud big brother

Noah Kim, who went to high school with Honciu, said the future cadet had a special way of making people comfortable.

"He was just one of those people who would make everyone laugh," Kim said.

Honciu, far right, smiles as his team prepares to play in snowy conditions in an exhibition match in March, to stay competitive for a city championship. (Submitted by Paul Zalewski)

When Honciu came home to Toronto for holidays, he often told his friends that studying was tough and it took a lot of hard work.

Honciu said it in a proud way, Kim recalled, who got the sense his friend felt good about meeting the challenges.

"It was baby steps for what he eventually wanted to do in the future."

Kim said he was initially intimidated by Honciu when he met him for the first time in math class as a new student in high school, but Honciu took the initiative to break the ice.

"We ended up chatting a lot in math class, probably chatting more than studying," Kim said.

The pair also enjoyed playing football and soccer together, motivating one another to do better through friendly competition.

Kim said he'll also remember Honciu's affection for his little brother. After initially expressing doubt about how to act around a baby, Kim said he embraced the new role and would share photos of the pair together throughout high school.

"He eventually leaned toward the side of, 'I'm going to be the best big brother ever.'"

With files from Guy Quenneville and The Canadian Press