Elaine Smart's son left a message on her answering machine Sunday night telling her he was going to drop off his girlfriend and then come home. That was about 10:30.
An hour later, 17-year-old James Thomas Smart was dead, his car crumpled against a telephone pole at Carrs Mill and Frederick roads in Western Howard County.
"He was totally coherent," Elaine Smart said yesterday. "I had no suspicion that he was drinking."
As more than 100 friends began to gather for Smart's funeral, some from as far away as Florida and Utah, county police released test results yesterday showing he had been drinking before he died.
A toxicology report found that his blood alcohol level was .05. For an adult driving a car, the legal limit is .07. For anyone under the age of 21 under any circumstances, the legal limit is .01.
No one can be sure whether Smart, a star athlete at Glenelg High School, was fit to drive Sunday night. But Howard County Police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said the test results suggested Smart's decision-making ability could have been affected by drink.
"He probably thought he was fine," Elaine Smart said. "I'm sure he just thought, `Oh, I'm not getting drunk, I'm just having a beer.'"
A county police officer tried to pull James Smart over for speeding about 11:30 Sunday night, only to have the teen-ager speed away at up to 100 mph. Smart, who was wearing a seat belt, had crashed the Pontiac Grand Prix he was driving by the time the officer caught up.
Emergency medical personnel reported a possible odor of alcohol in the car.
Elaine Smart is sure her son panicked when he saw a police car behind him. He knew that arriving home late with a speeding ticket and possibly a drunken-driving charge would have changed his senior year drastically, she said.
William and Elaine Smart kept a close eye on their oldest son's behavior and had high hopes for his future.
They had wanted to send him to a college preparatory school for his senior year. But Smart, known as J.T., was desperate to remain at Glenelg High, where he was devoted to the football, baseball and basketball teams.
So they made a deal with him: If he abided by a behavioral contract, which included a nightly curfew and increased attention to his studies, he could stay at Glenelg.
Elaine Smart made sure he always kissed her goodnight, in part to make sure he hadn't been drinking. To ensure that he didn't fritter away his summer hanging out, they sent him to a 50-day wilderness camp in Utah, where he kept a journal and wrote poetry.
Four days after his return - and a week before his first day of school - she got his message on her answering machine that she says she will never erase.
She has been comforted by the outpouring of sympathy from his friends, coaches and teachers.
"He was the kind of kid a teacher would get to do the goofiest thing in class - like sing a poem in his terrible, monotone baritone. That's how she'd get the rest of the kids to do it."
Since her son's death, Smart has watched his teammates, some of them 250-pound linebackers, weep by the memorial at the accident site. "They look like men, but they're babies," she said. "They're naive, they're vulnerable, they believe they're invincible." If there's a lesson in her son's death, she said, she hopes these boys will hear it.
"I know he knew it was wrong, but he probably thought, `What's two beers?'" she said. "It's a life, though."
Besides his parents, Jason Smart is survived by his 19-year-old sister and his 7-year-old brother.
A funeral Mass will be offered at 10 a.m. tomorrow at St. Louis Roman Catholic Church, 12500 Clarksville Pike in Clarksville.
Burial will follow at Crest Lawn Memorial Cemetery, 2150 Mount View Road in Marriottsville. Viewing hours at Witzke Funeral Home, 5555 Twin Knolls Road in Columbia, will be today from 3 to 5 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m.
Memorial donations can be made to Glenelg High School Booster Club, 14025 Burnt Woods Road, Glenelg 21737.