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Former rugby standout killed in Houston-area crash with chase suspect

Pedrie Wannenburg played for teams in South Africa and Europe before continuing his career in the U.S. He was considered a legendary player by teammates.

HOUSTON — The victim of a fatal crash with a suspect in a police chase was a well-known former rugby player and coach, according to multiple sources including former teammates.

Pedrie Wannenburg, 41, died Friday in a crash along Greenhouse Road, according to Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez.

Wannenburg's passengers, an 8-year-old boy, and a 10-year-old girl were also in the vehicle when they were hit by a teen who was running from authorities, Gonzalez said. The chase suspect hit three vehicles. 

The 16-year-old suspect has been charged with murder, reckless aggravated assault with serious bodily injury, and three counts of aggravated assault with bodily injury, according to Gonzalez. Two passengers inside the suspect vehicle were not hurt.

Wannenburg's 8-year-old son, Francois, is at Memorial Hermann Hospital where he remains in critical condition.

A vigil was held in Wannenburg's memory on Saturday.

“Everything the kids did, the family was so involved. He was such an involved father," said Mandi McDougal with Brazos Little League, which he coached for. 

Family friend Ericka Braun remembered Wanneburg as a former professional athlete, a great coach and an even better human being.

“He never met a stranger, anytime he was around he was always smiling, life of the party, everybody loved him,” Braun said.

Wannenburg coached the Rice University rugby team this year, officials said.

If you'd like to help, the Rice Rugby Club has set up a GoFundMe campaign to help support Wannenburg's family.

RELATED: Father dead, child injured after teen chase suspect crashes into multiple vehicles, deputies say

Condolences and reaction from around the world began circulating on social media soon after Wannenburg was identified as a victim of the crash.

"We are devastated at the passing of Vodacom Bulls legend Pedrie Wannenburg," his former team tweeted.

"I am shattered, have no words. Just heard that my friend Pedrie Wannenburg passed away in a car accident," his former coach, Loffie Eloff, tweeted.

Wannenburg played rugby union in South Africa and for teams in North America before a coaching career with the then-Austin Elite team.

Former teammate Stephen Farris called Wannenburg a rugby legend.

"Pedrie was a legend of the game and one of the nicest guys you could ever meet," he tweeted. "Thoughts are with his wife Evette and his young kids."

"Pedrie was an incredible player having played for the Springboks and moved to the USA to grow the game of rugby, where he played and coached Austin Elite Rugby," representatives of his former team said in a statement. "

The Houston SaberCats also remember Wannenburg fondly.

"Pedrie wanted to make a difference and grow the game of rugby in America. While he was never an official employee of the SaberCats, he is the one who put us in contact with Heyneke Meyer --our Director of Rugby. He also spent time this winter coaching our academy squad, Rugby HTX, on top of his regular job and coaching responsibilities at Rice. He was a friend to many of our players and he will be missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends today," the team said in a statement.

SaberCats Director of Rugby Heyneke Meyer also coached Wannenburg in South Africa.

"People always say this when someone passes away but I really mean this: he was an unbelievable human being. He always had a smile, was always joking and laughing and always had time for people. I had a very soft spot for him. He was soft-hearted but an out-and-out team guy. Everybody loved Pedrie," Meyer said.

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