After Christopher Mader finished his bartending shift at Bennigan's restaurant in Waldorf at 2:30 a.m. yesterday, his friends invited him to go to Denny's for a late-night snack.
But Mader, who loved sports more than anything, headed home instead to get some rest before a pickup football game Thanksgiving Day between Bennigan's and Red Lobster employees, his mother said. He would not make the game.
Christopher Mader dreamed of working for ESPN.
(Charles County Sheriff's Office)
Mader, 23, was shot in the upper body while driving his gray two-door Dodge Stratus west on Smallwood Drive, Charles County Sheriff's officials said. He lost control of the car and struck a sign and a power box within a mile of the home he shared with his family in Waldorf, authorities said. When sheriff's deputies arrived after 3 a.m., Mader was dead in the driver's seat.
"I'm not believing he's gone yet. This is not real. This does not make sense," said his mother, Samantha Payne, 50, as she sobbed at her dining room table and clutched a picture of her son to her chest. "You could never think this is going to happen. Then boom."
Mader's body was taken to the office of the chief medical examiner in Baltimore for an autopsy. The gunshot, which came from outside Mader's car, and the crash were heard by an off-duty D.C. police officer, authorities said. Police had not identified a suspect yesterday.
"I hope that it was a robbery and not just a senseless, random, wrong-place, wrong-time thing," Payne said. "That would be too much."
A viewing will be from 2 to 6 p.m. Sunday at Raymond Funeral Service on Washington Avenue in La Plata.
Mader had dreamed of being a sportscaster with ESPN and taken the first steps toward that goal, his mother said. He had been working since June as an intern in the sports department at Fox News Channel 5. On Channel 5's newscast last night, colleagues described him as a happy, ambitious, well-liked young man who was also broadcasting high school football games for the Fairfax Sports Network.
This month, a letter of acceptance arrived from the University of Maryland, where he planned to study broadcast journalism. His mother opened it and drove to Bennigan's to break the news to her son.
"He said: 'Oh my God! I finally got in,' " Payne recalled. "He hugged me. He showed his boss the letter. He was so happy."
His mother and stepfather, Phaon Payne, 45, who are managers at Wawa convenience stores, flipped through Mader's sportswriting clippings in their living room yesterday as they remembered their son. They described him as upbeat, outgoing and determined, a young man who loved playing pool, listening to Jimmy Buffett and pumping iron at Gold's Gym.
Mader grew up in Shippensburg, Pa., and played quarterback on the high school team, his family said. He left Robert Morris College, where he had studied business management, in 2002. He wanted to pursue journalism and move home to Waldorf to be closer to his mother, who had suffered a heart attack, she said. For her 50th birthday, Mader took the family to Camden Yards to watch the Baltimore Orioles play the New York Yankees. He arranged to have his mother's name and birthday flash on the jumbo screen.
"He was proud of me for overcoming the heart attack and diabetes. He cared about me so much," his mother said.
Last year, Mader flew to Chicago, Houston and Atlanta to try out for the ESPN show "Dream Job," in which the winning contestant gets to be an on-air anchor. Sitting in a hotel room in Atlanta, he scribbled his goals on lined paper.
"ESPN and myself have a lot in common. We both have a great future ahead of us, and both of us will not stop working until we achieve what we want," he wrote, adding: "It's true, there might be a couple of other talented people around here, and that's fine, but somebody's got to lose, and it's not going to be me."
Staff writer Ruben Castaneda and staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.