Moments after breaking up a fight among students yesterday, a biology teacher at Columbia's Wilde Lake High School collapsed and died.
Dr. Lawrence Hoyer, 60, who had taught at the school since 1986, was taken to Howard County General Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 11: 50 a.m. of an apparent heart attack.
Less than an hour earlier, he had tried to break up a brawl in the school parking lot.
Howard County school officials said the fight occurred during the first lunch period and involved girls from Wilde Lake and Howard High in Ellicott City.
Students said as many as 17 students -- almost all girls -- joined in the fray, which spread to the lawn in front of the school.
Patti Caplan, a county school spokeswoman, said the fight seems to have been caused by "an ongoing dispute between the students -- an interpersonal problem."
One student who witnessed the fight said Hoyer appeared out of nowhere to intercede.
"He just sort of flew through the air into the fight," said Wilde Lake senior Shawntay Lewis, 17. "He took one of those girls down like he was a quarterback."
School officials said Hoyer brought a female student into the school and collapsed almost immediately outside the main office.
Carol M. Satterwhite, the school athletic director, administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation until paramedics arrived, but Caplan said Hoyer was "not alert."
Natasha Clark, a 17-year-old senior at Wilde Lake, said she glimpsed Hoyer in the hall as she came downstairs to lunch. She described a scene of teachers crying as they knelt beside their dying colleague, students pressing in for a closer look.
"Dr. Hoyer was laid out on the floor, his fist was clenched real tight, and his head was propped up against the wall," Clark said. "I couldn't see his face because all the teachers were crowding around.
"It was really rough," she said, shaking her head.
Robin Colbert, a Wilde Lake custodian, said she hated the sight.
"Dr. Hoyer lying there that shouldn't have happened," she said. "It wasn't time for him to go. He was just doing a job, breaking up a fight.
Howard County police said 10 students -- thought to be nine girls and one boy, ranging in age from 15 to 18 -- from Wilde Lake and Howard High were taken to police headquarters in Ellicott City for questioning.
No charges have been filed, said Sgt. Steven Keller, a police spokesman. All were released yesterday into their parents' custody.
No weapons were involved, Keller said. Police were continuing their investigation.
"We'll have to look at all the circumstances involved in the incident to determine what our next step will be," he said. "We will certainly be looking at the autopsy report from the medical examiner's office."
Wilde Lake students were dismissed an hour early -- told only of the fight, not of Hoyer's death. Faculty members gathered in the school auditorium, where they received the news. "A loud gasp went up," a teacher said. Afterward, teachers streamed out, most in tears.
Hoyer was remembered as the teacher who could be counted on when a fight broke out at the 1,350 student Wilde Lake, the county's largest high school.
Nyjla Littlejohn, a 17-year-old senior in his 10th-grade biology class, said: "If you saw a fight, you saw Dr. Hoyer. Always."
Jerry Berkowitz, an English and journalism teacher at Wilde Lake, said Hoyer was "an honorable man, and even when these kids were being totally irresponsible by fighting, he never hesitated to jump in and protect them from getting hurt."
Keller said police will be at the school tomorrow "to make the students feel safe, and for those students who might have an idea to cause trouble, to know that it won't happen."
School officials said counselors will be present to help ease grief.
Hoyer's death comes as Howard teachers and administrators are showing a heightened concern about student violence. Last week, a Howard schools committee proposed a $405,000 action plan to reduce disruptive student behavior.
"The situation that happened here is what teachers are facing every single day," said Karen Dunlop, president of the Howard County Education Association, the bargaining unit for teachers. "What makes this so unique is that he died in the process, but this is the kind of thing our teachers are getting involved in.
"This has to be a call for community support of zero tolerance," Dunlop said.
In November, Howard County police charged 10 Columbia teens -- eight of them Wilde Lake students -- with assault and disorderly conduct, stemming from a fight outside Wilde Lake Village Center.
That fight between white males and black males prompted a flurry of meetings among police, community leaders, school administrators, parents and Wilde Lake students to talk about cultural diversity.
Race was not thought to be a factor in yesterday's fight.
Pub Date: 5/15/97