A few years ago, Christian Herrera loved to grab a steering wheel and imagine the freedom of the open road.
"I remember my grandmother's Oldsmobile," Christian's friend, Kelly Matthews, 17, recalled yesterday. "We used to sit in there and just dream about driving."
The boys' dream was just a hazy nightmare yesterday as hundreds of mourners -- Christian's family and his friends -- stood on the damp grass at Crest Lawn Memorial Gardens in Marriottsville.
The 16-year-old Ellicott City youth was a popular junior at Glenelg High School. He died Saturday morning after flipping his car on Route 32 Friday night -- another teen-ager who took the freedom of driving too far.
Shaken by Christian's death, his teachers and other staff at the high school looked through past yearbooks in an attempt to tabulate the number of students over the years who have not lived to graduate or died soon after.
They say that 41 Glenelg students have died in the past decade, a tally heavy with traffic fatalities.
A county police spokesman said yesterday that the department can't compare Glenelg to other county high schools in this respect, because it does not organize data by school or age.
At Christian's funeral yesterday, students and graduates expressed shock that the high school had lost so many and insisted no other county school could compare.
"I graduated in 1983 from Glenelg High School, and I've known of one or two [deaths] every year since I left," said the Rev. Kevin Farmer, who assisted at Christian's funeral at St. Louis Roman Catholic Church in Clarksville yesterday morning.
Christian had been confirmed at the church three weeks earlier. Yesterday, it was filled to capacity with 700 mourners: relatives, friends, students, teachers and church members who knew Christian. Father Farmer said he and the other priests officiating couldn't remember so crowded a funeral there.
Dr. Alfredo Jose Herrera took the opportunity to see that his son made a final contribution to his community and to his friends.
Since his death, Christian -- through donation of his body organs -- already had saved the lives of six people and given sight to two more, Dr. Herrera said. Christian had just decided to do that Sept. 3 -- the day he got his driver's license.
But there is another contribution that Dr. Herrera said in his eulogy he hoped Christian could make, one that might save even more lives.
He hoped his son's death would serve as a reminder to other youth to drive carefully. To that end, he hopes to start a program in Christian's name to educate teen-agers on the dangers of reckless driving and of not wearing seat belts. Police say Christian wasn't wearing a seat belt.
A county police report released Saturday noted there were alcoholic beverage containers in Christian's car at the time of the accident, but yesterday police said it's still unknown whether Christian had been drinking.
"We're not saying alcohol was involved at this point, we're just saying there were containers in the car," said Sgt. Steve Keller, a police spokesman.
He said police had not obtained blood test results and did not know whether the containers were open or closed.
But Dr. Herrera, an Ellicott City pediatrician, said: "In my son's case, he didn't die because he was drinking or on drugs. He was tested at [the Maryland Shock-Trauma Center] and found negative for both. He died because he was driving recklessly, because he was passing cars on the shoulder and mainly because he wasn't wearing his seat belt."
Dr. Herrera said that the important thing about his son's death is that something positive come from it: "All of you must learn from this tragedy and you will not only avoid an untimely death, but also you will save deep pain and sorrow to those you leave behind."
Christian is survived also by his mother, Anne Young Herrera; PTC two sisters, Rachael, 10, and Annie, 14; and a brother, Zachary, 12, all of Ellicott City.
Among those who knew Christian, his death has provoked some soul-searching about the dangers of driving.
"I think this is a good slap in the face for everyone," Kelly said after watching Christian's casket lowered into the damp earth.
"It was like one big show," Brendan Boyle, 16, one of Christian's close friends and a pall-bearer yesterday, said of the way in which they liked to drive. "Everybody liked to show off their cars, rip wheel and go real fast."
Kelly said he was part of that reckless scene, too, but after becoming a volunteer firefighter at the Lisbon Fire Department, he's changed.