JESSE Bowerman was ''a lovely, gregarious'' young man working as a barista while on his gap year. Raphael Goodridge was a talented artist who ''didn't have a mean bone in his body''. Sam Alderuccio was a ''loving soul'' who ''lived for his family and friends''.
The three were great friends. On Thursday, they died together when the car they were travelling in hit a parked car, a tree and a fence before bursting into flames on Westgarth Street, Northcote.
At the crash site yesterday, broken teenagers sat on the footpath against the charred and crumbling brick fence where the car came to rest. Bunches of flowers and candles sat against a scorched tree. The group had left a house in Jessie Street less than 400 metres away only seconds before they died.
The car, which was being driven by Mr Alderuccio, crashed almost directly outside a house rented by friends of the young men.
As friends and family members mourned the three yesterday, it was unclear what had caused the terrible crash.
Detective Inspector Steve Smith, from the major collision investigation unit, said the car was speeding above the 60km/h limit in wet conditions, but initial reports suggested it was not travelling at more than 70km/h.
Witnesses told police they saw the late-model Mercedes-Benz sedan fishtailing out of a side street just east of the crash scene moments before the crash.
The car contained a data black box that could hold vital clues for police investigators.
And police are investigating whether the battery in the boot, close to the fuel tank, may have been the ignition source for leaking petrol, rather than the downed power lines as first thought.
A former student of Trinity Grammar, Jesse, 18, met Raphael when they attended Swinburne Senior Secondary College in year 12. Known to friends as Jesse ''Wowerman'', Jesse was on a gap year while considering a career in graphic design. ''He was a lovely, gregarious, sensitive young man who was so loved by friends and family,'' said his mother, Dr Wendy Bowler, a research associate in La Trobe University's arts faculty.
Raphael, 18, and Sam, 19, were former Wesley College students. All three graduated last year.
Neil Goodridge said his son was ''incredibly popular''. ''Sometimes he'd muck around a bit, but he was a well-loved, likeable kid and a real softie,'' he said. ''We're all kind of speechless. He didn't have a mean bone in his body.
''They were his great mates that he died with.
''He was always happy and enjoying himself and I'm sure that on that day he was happy until something went badly wrong.''
His son had hoped to travel to South America and planned to enrol in a design course next year.
Sam's father, Sergio Alderuccio, said: ''Sam was a loving soul. We adored him and will remember his cheeky, handsome grin every day.''
His mother Kerry said: ''He would do anything for anyone. He lived for his family and friends.''
Jesse's girlfriend Alice Murray has lost her boyfriend and two close friends. ''I loved Jesse so much and I always will,'' she said.
''Raphael was one of my best friends. He was so affectionate and loving. He was always making jokes and was the life of the party.''
She describes Sam as level-headed and ''a really good guy''.
Raphael's girlfriend Alexia Copley gathered with Alice and others at a house a few doors from the accident site yesterday. ''I loved him with all my heart,'' she said.
''If someone ever did something that Raph liked, he would put on a voice and say ''styles''. It was a lovable thing.''
Trinity Grammar opened its chapel to students seeking solace.
The E-Class Mercedes' black box records the car's speed and driver inputs, such as steering, braking, throttle application, while motion sensors record the car's trajectory, up until the point of impact, said company spokesman David McCarthy.
With ANDREW HEASLEY