River Hill senior mourned after death in auto accident

John Droege remembered for his physical and emotional strength

April 11, 2002|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

A 2 1/2 -pound weight sits at the base of a 6-foot-tall flower-covered cross on Homewood Road in Ellicott City - a poignant tribute to a 17-year-old who died there in a two-car accident Friday morning.

John Scott Droege, an avid weightlifter, was less than a mile from his Oakspine Court home when he lost control of his 1987 Porsche convertible as it rounded a curve.

River Hill High School students, teachers, family members and friends squeezed into almost every pew of the 900-capacity Church of the Resurrection in Ellicott City yesterday for his funeral service.

Later, friends wrote yearbook-style notes on Droege's casket at Columbia Memorial Park Cemetery.

"He influenced us all so much that he'll never be gone," his friend Tyler Brooks said during the service. About a dozen people shared their memories of Droege during the 90-minute service.

Many talked about how strong - physically, emotionally and spiritually - the high school senior was. He could bench-press more than most teen-agers weigh, was far more self-assured than many of his peers and encouraged others to commit themselves to God as he had.

"From the time he was a little kid, he had this confidence about him," his father, Greg Droege, said yesterday afternoon. That confidence grew when he joined the Grace Community Church youth group in 10th grade, his mother, Teri Droege, added.

John Droege had planned to study psychology at Towson University in the fall.

His parents said their son was sort of a homebody and liked his friends to go to him, which meant there was always an extra person or three at their dinner table.

River Hill Principal Scott Pfeifer said the mood at the Clarksville high school had been somber this week as students came to grips with the loss of their classmate.

"The sad news is, this is not the first child that we've lost at River Hill," said Pfeifer, noting that five River Hill students have died in the past two years. "It's just overwhelming."

Droege had left his second-period weight-lifting class minutes before the accident, a friend said Tuesday night.

"That's the hardest part," said 18-year-old Kevin Steenberge, who was lifting weights with Droege just before the accident. "How do you go from bench pressing to not existing in seven minutes?"

The two had become friends this school year, Steenberge said, and he described Droege as the kind of teen-ager highly respected by his peers.

"He was really quiet if you didn't know him, but he was so loyal," Steenberge said. "If you told him something, you knew it wasn't going anywhere. And you knew what he was telling you was straight."

Droege and his 11-year-old sister, Kim, were also close, his parents said, and he brought home two kittens for his sister's 9th birthday.

"Now, every time I hold one of those kitties, it's like John is hugging me back," Teri Droege said.

Michelle Easter, a former girlfriend and close friend, said she and Droege had once chatted over the Internet about the subject of death.

"He said death is only a doorway and that he'd see me on the other side," she said at the service, adding that he always knew exactly what to say.

The teen-ager's car crossed a double-yellow line, spun around 180 degrees and struck the rear of a 1995 Toyota Camry, Howard County police said. Excessive speed was listed as the likely cause of the accident, police said.

The Toyota's driver, Ellicott City resident Susan Bauer, was in fair condition yesterday at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, a hospital spokeswoman said.

"It's no secret, it was the speed that did it," Pfeifer said. "But trying to get that message across is so hard. That's why car insurance rates are so high for teen-age boys. It's the same reason people ride roller-coasters. There's a real thrill involved [in driving fast]."

Pfeifer said he plans to discuss with students schoolwide tomorrow the importance of vehicle safety in the hope some will come away more determined to be cautious drivers.

Sun staff writer Tanika White contributed to this article.

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