Conor J. Lighthizer, 28, banker and outdoorsman

September 10, 2006|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,sun reporter

Conor J. Lighthizer, a 28-year-old banker and marathon runner from Annapolis, was hiking with his father high in California's Sierra Nevada on Tuesday when he died from a sudden illness.

He died of ketoacidosis, a complication of juvenile diabetes, while in the arms of his father, former Anne Arundel County Executive O. James Lighthizer. Extreme altitude might have triggered the condition, James Lighthizer said.

"I did everything I could for him. But it was an extremely remote area, and we couldn't get him out," said the elder Mr. Lighthizer, who was Maryland secretary of transportation from 1991 to 1995.

Another relative hurried down from the 10,000-foot mountainside to get help. A rescue helicopter arrived an hour after Conor Lighthizer's death Tuesday morning.

The younger Mr. Lighthizer worked as a loan manager at First Mariner Bank in Baltimore. But he was remembered by his friends as an outdoorsman and athlete who treasured his hiking trips with his father.

"He looked up to his dad and really wanted to impress him," said Cal Hines, 27, a lifelong friend of the younger Mr. Lighthizer. "This was something they enjoyed doing together - seeing the wonderful views and wildlife and being outside together in nature."

The older Mr. Lighthizer said he often hiked, camped and hunted with his son in Glacier National Park, the Grand Tetons and elsewhere. "I'm going to miss him. He's my hiking buddy," Mr. Lighthizer said.

Andrew Jaecks, 29, a former roommate of Conor Lighthizer's, said he was shocked to hear of the death, because his friend was in excellent shape, often running 10 to 20 miles a day. He had raced in at least three marathons, and was in training for the Marine Corps Marathon.

Mr. Jaecks said his friend was careful about managing his diabetes and watching his diet.

"He was very good about checking himself for his diabetes - but he didn't let it hold him back, or compromise anything he wanted to do," Mr. Jaecks said. "He lived the way he wanted to."

Conor Lighthizer grew up in Crofton, one of five children of James and Gloria Lighthizer. He graduated in 1996 from Archbishop Spalding High School and in 2001 from the College of Charleston in South Carolina.

In addition to managing residential construction loans at the First Mariner Bank, he worked part time at the South River Fitness Center in Edgewater.

On Sept. 2, he and his father flew from Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport to Fresno, Calif. There they met up with the younger Mr. Lighthizer's uncle, Greg Voets of Hartford, Conn., and the three drove about an hour to Kings Canyon National Park.

The group took a short, five-mile hike the first day to acclimate their bodies to the altitudes, James Lighthizer said. Conor Lighthizer felt a touch of nausea, which was the first hint of trouble.

On Sept. 4, the three rode horses through woods up into the mountains, climbing to 10,000 feet from 5,000. Then they put on their backpacks and started hiking.

After walking about a mile and a half, Conor Lighthizer became violently ill, his father said. They stopped and set up a tent.

"We thought it was the flu. We didn't think altitude sickness," James Lighthizer said. "I said, `How do you feel?' He said, `Let's wait until morning.' ... But then his system went radically out of whack."

The altitude might have triggered a complication of his diabetes, and his insulin levels became severely imbalanced. They couldn't call for help, because their cell phones were out of range.

After a night of severe sickness, Conor Lighthizer died at 11 a.m. The rescue helicopter arrived at noon.

"None of us want to die, but at least I know Conor was in a great place - a place he wanted to be," said Mr. Hines. "I'm sure there was some level of peace for him out there in the quiet."

A funeral Mass will be offered at 10 a.m. tomorrow at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church, 1800 Seton Drive, Crofton.

In addition to his parents, survivors include two sisters, Meghan Lighthizer of Annapolis and Patrice Ladd of Michigan; and a brother, James Lighthizer of Severna Park. Another brother, Robert Lighthizer, died in 1993.

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