Fellow students mourn football player's death in crash

By Allison Klein and Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 30, 2009

The 17-year-olds were best friends and senior football stars at Howard County's River Hill High. Steven Dankos started every game at offensive right guard, and team captain Thomas Erdman was a couple of spots away at left guard.

Their team lost an important playoff game Friday, ending its 40-game winning streak. The next night, Dankos and Erdman, who were rarely apart, went partying. About 3 a.m. Sunday, while still out, Erdman climbed into the passenger side of his older brother's pickup, and Dankos jumped into the truck bed. Neither stopped David Erdman, 22, from getting behind the wheel, although he had been drinking, police said.

The truck veered off the roadway and slammed into three stone pillars on Folly Quarter Road near Buckskin Lake Drive, killing Dankos immediately, according to police. The Erdman brothers were injured and were treated at hospitals and released, authorities said. David Erdman was charged with drunken driving, homicide by motor vehicle while intoxicated and manslaughter by motor vehicle, police said. He was taken to jail, and bond was set at $10,000, according to police.

Dankos, who was 6 feet tall and weighed 185 pounds, was an outgoing kid with a wide circle of friends, those who knew him said. Coach Brian Van Deusen and nearly the entire team visited Dankos's home Sunday.

"We were all just trying to be there and help his mom and his family cope with the situation," Van Deusen said. "You spend so much time with these kids, and they spend so much time together that they become their own family, and they're all trying to pull together."

Many on the team were seemingly stunned Friday when the winning streak ended. River Hill had been the two-time defending Maryland 2A champion. But Sunday, Van Deusen said, the loss of a game seemed less significant.

"This puts everything in perspective. The two things aren't even comparable," Van Deusen said. "Right now, we're all just trying to be there for each other."

He said Thomas Erdman was struggling as he grappled with the horrible turn of events.

"Thomas is having a tough time. He lost one of his best friends," Van Deusen said.

No other vehicle was involved in the accident on the rural, winding road. At the scene Sunday, someone fashioned a cross out of fence parts that were broken in the accident. Well-wishers have been writing messages on it and leaving flowers.

Senior running back and linebacker Kevin Moore, who lives in Ellicott City, said he was stunned to lose such a close friend senselessly.

"I couldn't believe it when I heard. Steve is a really good friend, and it's just unreal that this happened," Moore said. "It's real, real tough, because he was such a great friend to everyone. I don't know what the situation was, but I wish someone could have been there to tell him, 'No, don't get in the car. Don't do that.' "

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