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Athlete Dies From Car Fire Injuries

Forest Park Mourns Football Player

By Preston Williams
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 20, 2005; Page PW10

Forest Park High School senior Taylor Irwin, a three-year starting center on the school's football team, died Friday at Washington Hospital Center as a result of burn injuries suffered in a car fire March 4.

Irwin, 18, was a passenger in a car driven by fellow Forest Park senior Kristi Artenian, 18, when a bag of fireworks inside the vehicle ignited, said Capt. Tim Taylor, a Prince William County Fire and Rescue Department spokesman.

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Irwin suffered second- and third-degree burns over about half his body, Taylor said. Artenian, the All-Extra girls' lacrosse player of the year last spring, suffered second-degree burns on about 10 percent to 15 percent of her body.

Artenian also was taken to the burn unit at Washington Hospital Center, but her injuries were not life-threatening.

Forest Park football coach Jerry Williams said that Irwin will be missed both inside and outside the football program. Irwin was a second-team all-Cardinal District offensive lineman last season and was always quick to assist others both on the field and in the weightlifting class that Williams teaches, the coach said.

"He was one of the leaders of our team, and worked extremely hard and led by good example and played hard," Williams said. "He had a great character to him, and a very humorous side that a lot of people will remember. He was just a pleasure to coach.

"He's going to be greatly missed by all of us. He's a special person and we were lucky to have him the period of time we had him. He'll never be forgotten."

Williams said there was a get-well banner in the commons area at the school that hundreds of students had signed, and Forest Park players had autographed a football to present to their teammate. Irwin never recovered to the point that he could have visitors, Williams said.

During Irwin's hospitalization, the Forest Park Athletic Boosters Club set up a link on its Web site for students and other school community members to share their thoughts and prayers with the Irwin family. Some messages dated Friday still spoke of hopes for Irwin's recovery. Updates on his condition posted in recent days by family referred to respiratory complications. There is now a book of condolences on the site.

Junior running back Ryan Lee credited the 6-foot, 235-pound Irwin with helping him rush for 1,647 yards last season -- becoming the fifth-year school's first 1,000-yard rusher. Lee was in weightlifting class Friday morning with several other football players when Irwin's death was announced.

"We didn't know how to take it, so everybody went in the hall and just cried and thought of the memories we have of him," Lee said. "It's kind of hard to take it. A teammate who's been with you since your freshman year and helped me become what I am right now as a running back, to know that he's gone now and I can't see him any more, I just look back on the memories we have on the field and of him being a friend and giving me advice toward anything I needed. It's just a hurtful feeling. In any situation, when you were down, he'd be the person to bring you up."

The incident happened about 10:30 a.m. on a Friday morning on a stretch of Dumfries Road not far from Forest Park, fire and rescue spokesman Taylor said. He said it is uncertain how the fire started, and that Irwin had never recovered to the point that officials could interview him. Artenian was driving and talking on a cell phone at the time of the accident and did not see how the fire started, Taylor said.

In reporting Irwin's death Friday, the Prince William Department of Fire and Rescue issued a news release outlining safety precautions for handling fireworks.

"People need to be aware that it's very dangerous," Taylor said.

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