Before Glenelg High School's graduation at Merriweather Post Pavilion Tuesday, May 29, a photo of Matthew Cheswick lit up large video screens on either side of the stage, framed with the words, "In Loving Memory."
As Glenelg's graduates processed down to the tune of "Pomp and Circumstance," a different scene unfolded behind the stage. There, members of Merriweather's operations department — some of them Glenelg alumni themselves — sat remembering Cheswick, who died the day before when he was struck by a driver while on vacation in Ocean City.
"He was the glue of our department," said Lou Frey, an operations manager at Merriweather, where Cheswick worked. "He brought everyone together."
Cheswick, 22, a 2008 graduate of Glenelg and a junior at Towson University studying occupational therapy, was killed early Monday morning, Memorial Day, while he waited to cross the Coastal Highway near 54th Street and was hit by an Isuzu Rodeo, police said. The driver faces various charges, including driving while intoxicated.
The crash, which occurred around 1:20 a.m., left Cheswick with severe head injuries, according to police. He was later pronounced dead at Peninsula Regional Medical Center.
His mother, Cecilia Roe, was at their family home in Cooksville when she got the phone call from the medical center at around 3 a.m., she said.
"It was ironic," she said. "He was so careful about that — he would never drink and drive, and if he was going to a party and he and his friends wanted to drink, they would get a designated driver. ...
"I had talked to him Friday night, and he was walking to his hotel near the Delaware line, all the way from 54th Street because he wouldn't get a ride from his friend who had been drinking."
The driver of the vehicle that hit Cheswick, Diogo Miller Facchini, 30, of Lorton, Va., did not stop after hitting Cheswick, police said. Witnesses followed him until police arrived on the scene and arrested him.
Facchini is being charged with homicide by motor vehicle while intoxicated and leaving the scene of a fatal collision, among other charges, police said. His bond was initially set at $250,000, but a judge revoked it and he is now being held without bond, according to police.
A preliminary investigation revealed Facchini was speeding at the time of the incident.
A winning smile
Phone calls to Cheswick's friends started trickling in at about the same time Roe was called, they said. Frey said people in the operations department like to joke around, but it was soon clear that the Merriweather family had lost one of its own.
"He was always happy, never complained about anything," said Mike Lewis, one of Cheswick's co-workers. "He loved coming here. It was pretty much his life. He got along with everyone; he was the type of kid who, the minute he met you, he was your friend. He did anything for anyone. All you had to do was ask."
Cheswick was the kind of person who put everyone else first, said Zan Dodson, another member of the operations department.
"I've never met someone more passionate about everyone and everything in his life," Dodson said.
The memories of friends, family and co-workers paint a loving picture of Cheswick: a hard worker, practical joker, a kind person who could brighten anyone's day and a man who loved God and his family.
"I've never seen anyone talk to his mother so much," said James Regan, a co-worker, friend and 2007 Glenelg graduate.
Roe, like her son's friends, remembered Cheswick's smile — a grin that won him the "Best Smile Award" among seniors at Glenelg in 2008, and which, with the help of his last name, earned him the nickname "Cheese."
"Just his face, and his smile, that's all I've been seeing this week," Roe said. "Just his smile, the way he looked at me. He was always telling me, 'I love you.' He would text me at all hours of the day to tell me he loved me, telling me what a wonderful mother I was, over and over again."
Cheswick and his friends, Roe said, were very close. Many, like Regan and Doug Parker, a 2007 Glenelg graduate, work at Merriweather. Parker's mother, Jean, is the general manager at Merriweather. She said losing Cheswick meant losing a member of her personal family, as well as her work family. Cheswick was there with Doug when his own father died of cancer, Jean Parker said.
"It's impossible to get your arms around or put into words, this loss," she said. "Matt was the employee you wanted on your payroll. He was the friend you wanted your kids to have, and his smile — he had an eternal, sincere, beautiful smile."
Doug Parker remembered a co-worker who was "an absolute pleasure to work with" and a friend who was always happy.
"Right now it just feels like we're missing something," he said. "I woke up this morning thinking it was all a bad dream. ... As the minutes and hours go by, you realize how much he's missing in everything. It overcomes you."
Another friend remembered a time when Cheswick was there for him. Nick Antlitz, a 2006 Glenelg graduate, suffered his own accident on the Eastern Shore in 2008, when he fell from a basketball hoop and broke his neck. He is now paralyzed from the waist down, and remembered how, every weekend after his fall, Cheswick was there in the hospital with him.
"It's like the tables are turned now," Antlitz said. "They tell me about when I got hurt, how hard it was for them to hear it, how they heard it, who they heard it from, and about how Matt was always there, and as soon as Doug called me, I was like, 'You have to be kidding me.'"
A warning for others
Antlitz doesn't work at Merriweather, but he was there backstage Tuesday with his friends and Cheswick's co-workers for the event happening on stage: his younger brother was graduating from Glenelg, as was Parker's younger sister. Cheswick's younger brother, Luke, is a sophomore at Glenelg.
Roe said she hoped the tragedy would serve as a reminder to the community not to drink and drive, and it's a timely reminder, with nearly 4,000 students graduating from Howard County schools this week and last, many of them traveling to the Eastern Shore to celebrate.
"We've always stressed, all through schooling, about safety and good decision-making," said Patti Caplan, schools spokeswoman. "Those are the skills we hope they take with them when they graduate.
"It's sad this young man was an innocent victim of drunk driving. It's another reminder to students not to get behind the wheel if they've been drinking."
The timing was too much for Parker and Antlitz: Both were worried for their younger siblings in the wake of Cheswick's death.
"No matter what you're doing or where you are, it's like something hard's on your chest," Antlitz said.
Cheswick's funeral is scheduled for Friday, June 1, at 1 p.m., at St. Michael's Catholic Church, in Mount Airy.
Staff writer Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.