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2 Fallston High athletes struck fatally by car


The captain of the Fallston High School baseball team and a teammate were killed early yesterday when they were struck by a car while walking along a two-lane highway in Harford County.

Christian James Leonard, 18, the captain, and Eric Christopher Rothgeb, 16, both of Fallston, were walking on the shoulder of Fallston Road -- Route 152 -- when they were hit about 4 a.m. by a 1992 Jeep Wrangler that crossed the center line in the 1500 block, a Harford County sheriff's spokesman said.

Authorities said the driver, William Smith, 20, of the 3100 block of Wellington Way in Baldwin drove to a grocery store several miles away to call his family. He returned to the scene with his family, drawing the attention of a county deputy driving through the area. The teammates' bodies were found in the grassy area along the shoulder.

No charges were lodged yesterday. The investigation is continuing.

Eric was spending Friday night at Christian's house in the 2100 block of Rosante Court, a quarter-mile from the accident scene. They had watched their favorite movie, the baseball comedy "Major League," and played a laser-tag game called Survivor, relatives of both victims said.

No one could say why the two friends -- gearing up for a recreation league baseball doubleheader scheduled for 9:30 a.m. yesterday -- were up so late. Relatives said they probably got bored and wanted to take a walk.

"Eric was a very sleepless child. . . . Just before a game, he wouldn't sleep much," said his father, Elwood Rothgeb, from their home in the 100 block of Mountain Road -- also part of Route 152. The games were canceled because of rain.

Eric was a baseball outfielder, and a varsity football player for Fallston High School. He loved the Orioles and the Buffalo Bills, his family said.

A year ago, Eric suffered a shoulder injury playing baseball, but worked hard to overcome it. Last fall, Eric, a junior, started all 10 games as the defensive end for his high school football team, the Cougars. He had talked about trying out for quarterback in his senior year.

"He was looking forward to the football season because he accomplished a lot last year," said Dave Cesky, Fallston High's football coach and athletic director.

"Both of them were super kids, not as players but really good kids," he added. "They were two of the nicest kids you can coach. It's a real tragedy."

Christian was a pitcher, named to the all-county baseball team this spring by the newspaper Aegis. He loved the Cleveland Indians because of the fictional version of the team celebrated in the "Major League" movies, a sister said.

On June 9, he graduated from Fallston High. He planned to study microbiology at Harford Community College and play baseball there.

Christian also was a member of a youth baseball team, the Harford Sox, that travels around the state. Last night, the team met to retire the number he wore. The 16 members also decided to sew a black "5" -- his number -- onto the right breast of each uniform in Christian's memory.

He last pitched Thursday night, through the first five innings of a game his team won, 10-9.

"He was always there. He was someone you can count on," said Harford Sox baseball director Gary Sadera, "one of those kids you can't replace."

Fallston High students and teachers said they will remember Christian not only as an athlete but as someone who rekindled school spirit.

In September, Christian suffered a serious leg injury in a car accident and was hospitalized at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center. Classmates rallied around him and encouraged him to stick to a therapy schedule that allowed him to play baseball this spring.

In turn, Christian offered to be "Gar" -- one of three students who donned the school's cougar mascot outfit and drummed up applause at football and basketball games.

"Everybody knew him as the friendliest and nicest guy at school," said best friend and Fallston classmate Katie Wirth, 16.

English teacher James O'Toole, who taught both baseball players, called them role models.

"They exemplified what we want kids to become -- living by principle," he said. "They always took a minute or two to talk with you or have a smile for you. Not all kids do that. That's positive in today's world. They realize that our duties are more than to ourselves."

Funeral plans for the youths were incomplete last night.

In addition to his father, Eric is survived by his mother, Maureen Rothgeb; two brothers, Stephan and Adam of Fallston; and his grandparents, Woodrow and Mary Sue Lewis of Fallston, and Dorothy Clifford of Baltimore.

Christian is survived by his parents, Art and Kathleen Leonard; two sisters, Carrie and Jennifer Leonard of Fallston; and his grandparents, Jim and Charlotte Cvach of Baltimore, and Ralph and Mary Leonard of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

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