Monday, November 30, 2009

River Hill Tragedy

This is so sad.

From WaPo:

By Allison Klein and Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, November 30, 2009

The 17-year-olds were best friends and senior football stars at Howard County's River Hill High. Steven Dankos started every game at offensive right guard, and team captain Thomas Erdman was a couple of spots away at left guard.

Their team lost an important playoff game Friday, ending its 40-game winning streak. The next night, Dankos and Erdman, who were rarely apart, went partying. About 3 a.m. Sunday, while still out, Erdman climbed into the passenger side of his older brother's pickup, and Dankos jumped into the truck bed. Neither stopped David Erdman, 22, from getting behind the wheel, although he had been drinking, police said.

The truck veered off the roadway and slammed into three stone pillars on Folly Quarter Road near Buckskin Lake Drive, killing Dankos immediately, according to police. The Erdman brothers were injured and were treated at hospitals and released, authorities said. David Erdman was charged with drunken driving, homicide by motor vehicle while intoxicated and manslaughter by motor vehicle, police said. He was taken to jail, and bond was set at $10,000, according to police.

Dankos, who was 6 feet tall and weighed 185 pounds, was an outgoing kid with a wide circle of friends, those who knew him said. Coach Brian Van Deusen and nearly the entire team visited Dankos's home Sunday.

"We were all just trying to be there and help his mom and his family cope with the situation," Van Deusen said. "You spend so much time with these kids, and they spend so much time together that they become their own family, and they're all trying to pull together."

Many on the team were seemingly stunned Friday when the winning streak ended. River Hill had been the two-time defending Maryland 2A champion. But Sunday, Van Deusen said, the loss of a game seemed less significant.

"This puts everything in perspective. The two things aren't even comparable," Van Deusen said. "Right now, we're all just trying to be there for each other."

He said Thomas Erdman was struggling as he grappled with the horrible turn of events.

"Thomas is having a tough time. He lost one of his best friends," Van Deusen said.

No other vehicle was involved in the accident on the rural, winding road. At the scene Sunday, someone fashioned a cross out of fence parts that were broken in the accident. Well-wishers have been writing messages on it and leaving flowers.

Senior running back and linebacker Kevin Moore, who lives in Ellicott City, said he was stunned to lose such a close friend senselessly.

"I couldn't believe it when I heard. Steve is a really good friend, and it's just unreal that this happened," Moore said. "It's real, real tough, because he was such a great friend to everyone. I don't know what the situation was, but I wish someone could have been there to tell him, 'No, don't get in the car. Don't do that.' "

As for Friday's game, an emotional 10-7 loss to Huntingtown in the Maryland 3A semifinals, Moore said, "Friday seems like so long ago now."

River Hill Principal Bill Ryan said administrators were planning a "crisis team meeting" to devise a plan to help students and staff members deal with Dankos's death.

"We're all very saddened by the news," Ryan said. "We have an incredible community and, as in the past, we will pull together and get through this. Our thoughts and prayers really do go out to the families and all of our students."

Standard procedure for Howard schools is to make extra counselors available for faculty and students.

"This is going to take some time for everyone. Our principal has helped put things in place for tomorrow, and we're going to do everything we can to help the kids," Van Deusen said. "Our team is really close this year, and we're going to get through this together."

Van Deusen said that the funeral arrangements weren't complete but that the family was planning a service for this week.

The River Hill community dealt with a similar situation five years ago when alumnus and star football player Adrian Cmerek, 20, suffered fatal injuries in a car crash in Howard County.

He was a Virginia Military Institute student and was home for Christmas at the time.

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