TRUCKEE, Calif. — Optimistic, upbeat, enthusiastic, hard working and a friend to all — those are just a few words used by family and friends to describe Petty Officer 3rd Class Brian Andrew Collins.
“He always reminded me of a puppy, just filled with joy and love,” said Glenshire resident Jim Sturtevant. “He always saw things positively.”
Collins — who grew up in Truckee and lived with the Sturtevant family and two other families while completing high school — died in a Navy helicopter crash off the Virginia coast on Jan. 8. He was 25.
Collins was a crewman on a five-man MH-53E Sea Dragon that was out on a routine training exercise for mine countermeasures when it crashed into the Atlantic, according to the Navy. The accident left Collins and another dead, two injured and one missing at sea.
“Our heartfelt prayers go out to the families and loved ones of those killed and injured in (the) crash,” said Capt. Todd Flannery, Helicopter Sea Combat Wing Atlantic commander, in a Jan. 8 news conference.
News of Collins’ death came as a shock to family and friends, who had seen him two weeks earlier during the Christmas holiday.
“You don’t worry about the people who are stationed in the U.S.; you worry about the people being sent out, deployed to combat situations,” said Greg Pearson, a close friend of Collins.
Collins — who attended Truckee Elementary, Sierra Mountain Middle and Truckee High schools — enlisted in the Navy on Nov. 1, 2011, with ambitions to become a Navy SEAL before being assigned to Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron Fourteen based at Naval Station Norfolk.
“He really wanted to help people,” Sturtevant said. “… He said, ‘I don’t want to just live a life where I didn’t contribute something to people. I want to give back to people. I want to do something good.’”
Collins decided to join the Navy after graduating from Universal Technical Institute in Sacramento, where he studied collision repair and auto painting.
“It’s hard to face the reality that he won’t be coming back,” said Cheyenne Collins, Brian’s wife of a little more than a year.
That sense of disbelief was echoed by Brian’s friends, who gathered in the Sturtevants’ Glenshire home Sunday afternoon.
“Still days later, there’s that thought in my mind that this can’t be real,” said Craig Cuffney, a close friend. “I keep thinking that I’m going to get a text or a call, and it’s all going to be a misunderstanding.”
Aside from the Sturtevants, Collins also lived with the Cuffney and Keese families while in high school. After trade school, Collins returned to Truckee, staying with the Sturtevants and Keeses.
Collins’ calls, or rather, his voicemails, were well-known for their length, Cuffney recalled.
Another trademark of his messages was he always include the phrase, “I love you.”
“I think it was his way of letting you know he appreciated you,” Sturtevant said.
“Everyone who knew Brian fell in love with Brian,” added Jan Sturtevant, Jim’s wife. “He stole your heart.”
Collins made many friends in town, often acting as the facilitator among them.
“Brian always wanted everyone to be friends and hang out together,” Cuffney said.
One example was teaming up people for a glow-in-the-dark Frisbee game — which turned out to be better in concept than actual execution, Cuffney explained, drawing laughs from the group.
A procession in Collins’ honor will take place 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 25, at Truckee-Tahoe Mortuary, at 10126 Church St., and end at Truckee High School, where a celebration of his life will start at noon in the gym.
Collins is immediately survived by his wife, Cheyenne; parents Hollee and Bill Collins; sisters Crystal Collins, Melissa Brock and Danielle Helm; and dog Howie, who has been staying with the Sturtevants since Brian joined the Navy.
A fund for Cheyenne Collins has been set up with Plumas Bank. Donations can be made by getting a pre-made deposit slip from a Plumas Bank teller and making the slip payable to Elizabeth Archer with ‘Cheyenne Collins Fund’ written in the memo field.
“He really was an independent individual who knew how to make really good friends,” said Nancy Evans, one of Collins’ guidance counselors at Truckee High. “As a result, there is community who will always remember him.”