One night last April, Skylar Marion and two friends set out in the dark, down Pasadena's Mountain Road to a nearby convenience store. It started as a trip for snacks on a Friday night, innocent teenage fun for a boy known to be sweet to his female friends.
"What's every 15-year-old's dream?" says Skylar's father, Michael Marion. "Walking down the road with two girls, arm in arm."
The dream turned into a nightmare for Skylar's family, a nightmare that has reverberated through the close-knit Pasadena community. Two-tenths of a mile shy of the convenience store, a Ford Expedition struck Skylar, throwing him into one of the girls.
The Expedition never stopped, leaving behind two wounded teens. The third raced back to Skylar's house for help.
The injured girl eventually recovered from her injuries. Skylar, a Chesapeake High School freshman who loved hot rods and riding bikes, died at Maryland Shock Trauma Center three days after the April 12, 2013, incident.
A year later, reverberations from the accident are still being felt. Police have continued trying to find the driver of the Expedition, spending more than 1,000 man-hours in the search. The Marions have maintained their campaign to keep the case in the public eye. And one of Skylar's classmates, who received his heart, has passed his one-year transplant checkup and is back to playing baseball.
At a vigil over the weekend marking the one-year anniversary of the crash, a pained Michael Marion turned to TV cameras and pleaded for help: "Turn yourself in," he said, addressing the driver of the Expedition. "Save everybody time and help our family."
Mountain Road is notoriously dangerous — there are no sidewalks in that stretch and just a small shoulder — but Skylar's family never worried much. He and his friends were always careful.
"He had walked to that farm store 1,000 times," said Skylar's aunt, Dawn Caley. "Michael sent him that way a million times, and his biggest worry was, 'Take your jacket. It's cold.' You would never think your child would get killed."
Where Skylar once walked countless times, there's a memorial honoring his life where it was taken at the corner of Mountain Road and Alvin Road — and a message for the hit-and-run driver, all in capital letters.
"Look into my face," the posters read. "Look into my eyes. You hit me with your car and left. I was a person, a human being. You took away a son, a grandson, a brother, a best friend. You took away my life. Look into my eyes you coward. May they haunt you for the rest of your life."
Skylar's face looks out from the posters nailed to a utility pole, his eyes peering out from under long, floppy bangs and a hoodie.
No new leads
When traffic investigators from the Anne Arundel County Police Department arrived at the crash scene that Friday night, they thought they had a good shot at finding the driver.
The passenger-side front headlight and turn signal, edged in chrome trim, were left behind. They quickly determined that a 1997-2002 Ford Expedition hit Skylar.
"That night I felt optimistic, having make, model and year range. … We've had some cases solved with less," said Cpl. Greg Russell, the lead crash investigator.
Investigators also were able to determine a partial vehicle identification number. By Monday morning, police had a list from the Motor Vehicle Administration of every vehicle in Pasadena and Glen Burnie that matched the partial VIN.
They checked all of those vehicles. None matched.
They obtained video from businesses up and down Mountain Road. None of the footage showed the SUV.
They visited body shops, car dealerships, parts distributors, junkyards. None of the visits turned up a suspect.
They followed tips to see damaged Expeditions, traveling as far as the Eastern Shore and Quantico, Va. None matched.
At this point, the only hope the police have of solving the case is for someone to step forward with a credible tip or to admit they were the driver that night. Russell believes the driver likely lives or frequents Pasadena and knows full well that he or she hit a child.
The Expedition was westbound, heading away from the end of the Pasadena peninsula toward Glen Burnie. There are few things that would draw someone that far down Mountain Road at 9:25 on a Friday night. The driver likely lives in Pasadena or was visiting someone in Pasadena, Russell said.
"It's not a road you just accidentally drive down," he said.
By now, the Expedition has surely been fixed or junked. Still, police hope the driver or a witness can be persuaded to come forward.
"There's somebody that saw something. Somebody knows something. … The people who know aren't coming forward, and that's disappointing," said Lt. David Ennis, commander of traffic safety. "It angers me that somebody out there knows what happened and they aren't doing the right thing."
Russell credits the Marion family with keeping Skylar's case in the public eye. But all of that attention also might have the unintended consequence of convincing the driver it's not a good idea to come forward, police acknowledge
"They are going to get a lot of negative attention," Russell said. "They left somebody along the road to die. There's no way to sugarcoat that."
Campaign for justice
Skylar's relatives are determined to do everything in their power to bring the driver to justice.
Caley, his aunt, maintains a Facebook page where she posts updates about the case and encourages people to spread the word.
In addition to the memorial, Skylar's dad posted a hand-painted wooden sign farther down the road with information about the suspect's SUV. A billboard also has been erected on westbound Route 100 as the highway leaves Pasadena.
A number of fundraisers — a spaghetti dinner, a car wash, a Coach purse bingo, a charity spin class — have raised extra money for the reward fund, which now stands at $15,000. The Marion family says they have raised an additional $5,000, which they plan to add to the fund.
Michael Marion thinks about the driver and the Expedition often.
"I find myself still driving around, just hoping to see a garage door open or something, see a glimpse of something," he said.
For Marion, the year has been full of pain and challenges. A single father, he has two other boys to worry about: Skylar's twin Zach, now 16, and another son, Sam, 15. The boys' mother was killed in a car crash a decade ago.
"You cry, then you're good. Then you cry again," Marion said.
The Marions have received special support from a family that lives just a few miles away.
As Skylar lay dying at Shock Trauma, Kyle Wilkerson was in the very same hospital, recovering after having a heart pump installed. Kyle has genetic idiopathic cardiomyopathy and was waiting for a heart transplant.
As Michael Marion faced the difficult decision of whether to donate his son's organs, he learned there was another teenage boy — he didn't know it was Kyle — in the hospital who needed a heart transplant. Standing by Skylar's bedside, he asked his son if it would be OK to donate his heart.
"I couldn't let him pass away without helping somebody," Marion said.
Across the hospital in Kyle's room, a doctor shared the news that they had found a heart. Denise Wilkerson woke her son, who immediately asked: "Is it Skylar?"
Kyle and Skylar were classmates, but usually traveled in different social circles, occasionally riding bikes together, Denise Wilkerson said. It's all so surreal, it's like something out of a made-for-TV movie, Denise Wilkerson said.
"I wouldn't believe it if I didn't live it," she said.
At a vigil Saturday night, votives that the Wilkersons brought were arranged to spell out Skylar's name. Michael, Zach and Sam Marion called Kyle over. The four draped their arms around one another and posed for a picture. Denise and her husband, Randy, wiped away tears.
The Marions are hoping for a little more good to come from Skylar's death.
Already, his death has prompted the Motor Vehicle Administration to review its driver education curriculum, after the issue got traction from a failed attempt by state Sen. Bryan Simonaire of Pasadena to pass a bill requiring a rewrite of the hit-and-run section and a stiffer maximum sentence for hit-and-run drivers.
Skylar's family also hopes to help families of other crash victims quickly raise money for reward funds.
Having a generous reward can help, according to police, but it's more likely a break will come from someone with a guilty conscience.
"Somebody down there truly knows," said Russell, the investigator. "I don't know what can be done to tug at their heartstrings any more."
How to help
Anyone with information on the Skylar Marion case can contact Metro Crime Stoppers by calling 1-866-7LOCKUP, sending a text of "MCS" plus the message to CRIMES (274637) or via metrocrimestoppers.org. Callers are not required to give their names.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun