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Few Clues Seen In Fatal Shooting Of Waldorf Driver

Motive Unclear, Investigators Say

By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 28, 2004; Page SM01

The motive behind the shooting death of a 23-year-old Waldorf bartender as he drove home from work early Thursday continued to stump Charles County Sheriff's Office investigators Friday.

Christopher Mader, who was alone in his gray two-door Dodge Stratus, was shot in the upper body while driving west on Smallwood Drive after finishing his shift at Bennigan's restaurant at 2:30 a.m. on Thanksgiving, authorities and relatives said. The vehicle careered into a sign and an electric utility box near William B. Wade Elementary School, within a mile of his home in the subdivision ringing Hampshire Lake in the St. Charles community, authorities said.

Christopher Mader dreamed of working for ESPN. (Charles County Sheriff's Office)

When sheriff's officers arrived at the scene after 3 a.m., the rear window and front passenger window were smashed, and Mader's body was in the driver's seat.

Capt. Joseph Montminy of the Charles County Sheriff's Office said Friday that investigators have little to go on in the case.

"Could it have been road rage? Could it have been a kid shooting a gun from the road? Could it have been something that happened at the bar and he was followed? All those are possibilities right now," Montminy said.

Nothing was stolen from Mader's car, and he had no criminal record, Montminy said. Though the autopsy at the chief medical examiner's office in Baltimore had not been completed Friday evening, authorities said Mader probably died from the gunshot rather than the car crash.

"He just seems like a really hard-working young man that was trying to do the right thing. This is really a shame," Montminy said.

Family and friends recalled Mader's infectious smile and cheerful personality and his dream of becoming a broadcaster for ESPN. Since June, he had worked as an intern in the sports department at Fox News Channel 5, while also providing color commentary for high school games for the Fairfax Sports Network. Earlier, he interned on the "Sports Junkies" on WHFS-FM (99.1). Mader, who took classes at the College of Southern Maryland, had recently been accepted at the University of Maryland, where he planned to pursue broadcast journalism.

"He was so excited when he got in [to the university], he was showing everybody at work the letter," said Mader's mother, Samantha Payne, a manager at a Wawa convenience store in La Plata. "Being a sports broadcaster had been what he wanted to do ever since the fifth or sixth grade."

At Bennigan's, where Mader had worked four nights a week for more than two years, he loved delivering one-liners from movies and talking about his favorite teams, the New York Yankees and the Chicago Bears, manager Steve Urso said.

"He was always joking around, very vibrant. Everyone loved him," Urso said. The restaurant closed Thanksgiving to honor Mader. The staff at the bar has been "devastated" by the shooting, he said.

"It's very hard for us. You work with somebody for that long, and then they're suddenly gone," Urso said. "From our point of view it's a senseless crime."

The shooting was the seventh homicide in Charles County this year, authorities said. Suspects in the previous six cases have been arrested, Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Kristen Adkins said.

A viewing is scheduled from 2 to 6 p.m. today at Raymond Funeral Service on Washington Avenue in La Plata. Mader will be buried in New Jersey, where he has relatives, family members said.

Friends and relatives said they were baffled by the crime, partly because they said Mader was not the type of person to make enemies or get into confrontations.

"He was a nice, friendly, peaceful guy who would probably be the first guy to jump in and calm things down if there was an argument," said Brian Nern, a producer at Fairfax Sports Network, where Mader worked for a year and a half.

Mader grew up in Shippensburg, Pa., and played quarterback on his high school team, his family said. In August 2002 he left Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, where he had studied business management, to move back to Maryland. He wanted to pursue journalism and be closer to his mother, who had suffered a heart attack, Payne said.

She remembered how his eager inquisitiveness almost got the best of him while working for Fox 5. In September, he traveled to New Jersey to help cover the Washington Redskins game against the New York Giants. He was supposed to stay quiet, his mother said, but he couldn't resist asking Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington a question.

"He almost lost the internship," she said. "But he did it because he was so excited. For him, it was the ultimate to be in that stadium with those players. He was supposed to be silent, but that's not Chris. He was very outspoken."

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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