Drawn Together in Life, Held Together After Death

Greg Raymond
"What's the hardest part for me, I guess, is just knowing how close of friends we were, and that Matt trusted me to drive," Greg Raymond, on the accident that took his best friend's life. (Tim Larsen for The Post)
By Eli Saslow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 3, 2006

Greg Raymond had trouble gripping the telephone. His hands trembled. Shortly after 11 on a December night, Greg stood in front of the Baltimore City Detention Center with tear stains on his face and dried blood on his shirt. He felt dizzy. He gasped for breath. But he needed to make this call.

For the last 18 hours, Greg had paced in a cell and tried to comprehend the two facts that now defined him: His best friend was dead, and Greg was partly responsible.

So much about the previous night had felt ordinary, Greg thought. He and his alter ego, Matt Stoffel, former Johns Hopkins lacrosse teammates, both 23, went out for beers. They talked about college, about old memories and new careers. Then, a little past 1 a.m. on Dec. 11, 2005, Greg drove them to meet up with more friends, never considering how much he'd had to drink or whether his blood alcohol level was above the legal limit.

He crashed and watched Matt's life seep away in the passenger seat. Minutes after his best friend left the scene of the accident in the back of an ambulance, Greg left in the back of a police car.

Almost immediately after Greg made bail and left lockup, he felt compelled to talk with Matt's parents. He knew Glynn and Patricia Stoffel well, and he wanted to tell them that he loved Matt, that the accident had been his fault and that he was sorry. Greg didn't expect their forgiveness. He could never even imagine forgiving himself.

In the minutes before he talked to the Stoffels, Greg braced for anger, incomprehension and bitterness. Part of him hungered for it. "I deserved whatever reaction they had, no matter how bad, because that would be part of my punishment," Greg said. He had thought of things to say, but he remembered none of them when Glynn's tired voice came through the phone. Greg stumbled through a tearful greeting. Then Glynn interrupted him.

"We're going to get through this," Glynn told Greg that night. "And we're going to get through this together."

A Constant Togetherness

Patricia Stoffel met Greg in 2000, and no teenager had ever left her with such a dynamic first impression. At the Johns Hopkins annual dinner for mothers of lacrosse players, Patricia sat in a room filled with near strangers. Hopkins lacrosse coach Dave Pietramala introduced one freshman player who had been picked to talk about his experiences during his first few months at Hopkins. Greg stood up.

At 6 feet 4, Greg had broad shoulders and a barrel chest. His soft, dark hair fell over kind eyes. When he started to speak, he made self-effacing jokes and held eye contact. He entertained the mothers for about 10 minutes and, by the time he sat down, Patricia had picked out her son's new best friend. "Greg had it ," Patricia said. "Right away, I wanted Matt to befriend him."

Matt and Greg built a bond even stronger than friendship, teammates said. They became extensions of each other. They lived together with various other teammates for three years at Hopkins, and Matt and Greg developed the rhythms of a married couple. They watched "Nip/Tuck" on Tuesdays and "Laguna Beach" on Wednesdays. They lifted weights together, and then, on game days, stood shoulder-to-shoulder on the sideline. Greg banged Matt's helmet every time Hopkins scored a goal.

On Sundays, they'd lie on couches in their apartment and watch 10 hours of football. "We wouldn't even have to talk," Greg said. "Then, at the same time, we'd both stand up, stretch and say, 'Dominos?' "

They balanced each other out. Matt tended to be quiet, and he devoted his energy to an economics major and a close group of friends. Greg was so outgoing that his teammates voted him a three-time captain even though he never emerged as a star player. Matt played guitar; Greg tried to sing. Greg accepted Hollywood movies as great entertainment; Matt forced him to analyze them.

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