Prince William's Battlefield High mourns 3 killed in crashes

Derek Meffert
Derek Meffert
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By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 22, 2010

Battlefield High School students gathered Wednesday for a candlelight vigil in memory of two of their classmates killed in a car accident that happened just weeks after another Battlefield student's life was cut short in a similar situation.

"The vigil was all student-organized, which, to me, made it even more touching," Battlefield Principal Amy Ethridge-Conti said, adding that about 150 people attended. "They are on vacation, but it meant so much to them that they organized this and came together. One thing I realized at the vigil is they are really trying to take care of each other during this tough time."

Derek Meffert, 15, a rising sophomore, and Stephen T. Dixon, 18, who had just graduated from the school, were killed in Haymarket on Sunday when Dixon lost control of the Mazda he was driving on Logmill Road, Prince William County police said. The Mazda was struck by an oncoming car and flipped upside down. A rear passenger survived the crash, in which police said speed and alcohol were involved. The driver in the other car also survived.

Wednesday's vigil was about a month after the July 23 death of Taylor Waldron, 18, who had also just graduated from Battlefield. Waldron was driving alone on Kettle Run Drive in Nokesville on July 17 when he drove the car off the pavement and into several objects before flipping and landing in a ditch. Although police said the crash is still under investigation, Waldron's mother, Dorothy Waldron, said she knows alcohol was involved.

"When I heard that more students from Battlefield were killed, I was so disappointed," said Jennifer Hornbrook, a cousin of Taylor Waldron's who described him as smart, funny and genuine. "It is sad to think that Taylor's death may be in vain and that these kids aren't learning anything from such a terrible tragedy."

Memory pages are posted on Facebook, where students are sharing their stories about the three classmates. Ethridge-Conti said counselors are also available at the school.

Derek Meffert

Friends and family describe Derek as a caring guy who had a keen sense of humor and loved to spend time with his family, particularly his grandmother. He was a musician who also played football for Battlefield and had plans to go to medical school, said his mother, Yolanda Meffert.

Battlefield sophomore Kaitlyn Arnold, who helped arrange the memorial, said that she met Derek in English class last year and that the two immediately started a friendly football rivalry -- she an Indianapolis Colts fan and he a San Francisco 49ers devotee.

"It's funny because the day of the accident the Colts and the 49ers played," she said. "The 49ers won."

Yolanda Meffert said Derek, born with blond hair, blues eyes and a chin cleft, was her "miracle" child because she had him at age 44. Meffert said it wasn't until a few weeks ago that she found out her son had started drinking. Cleaning his room while he was away, she found empty beer and wine bottles hidden in drawers. The night of the accident, she said, Derek had gone to a concert at Jiffy Lube Live, formerly Nissan Pavilion.

"We had a long talk, and he said, 'Mom, I never get into a car with someone who is drunk,' " she said. "As much as I love him, he believed nothing could happen to him. And that's what they all believe."

Stephen Dixon

Dixon, who transferred to Battlefield from Lake Braddock Secondary School in Fairfax County halfway through his senior year, will be remembered for his crooked smile, contagious laugh and his willingness to help others, said friends, who had a vigil for him at Lake Braddock as well.

"It really turned out to be a beautiful event," said Megan Kelley, who helped plan the vigil. "There was sadness, grief, disbelief, and there were many tears. . . . The night was full of love, strength, spirituality, hope and life -- the same things that our beloved Stephen Dixon was full of."

Josh Kuster, who graduated with Dixon from Battlefield, said Dixon loved cars, naming his most recent one Abby. Kuster said he enjoyed their discussions, sharing stories about what they did growing up and where they were going in life.

Dixon's father, Chauncey Dixon, said his son was giving the students a ride that night, as he had done before, on a "hilly and poorly lit road known for accidents." Although the police report said alcohol was a factor in the crash, Chauncey Dixon said the family is waiting for more details.

"Toxicology has not determined an alcohol content for Stephen" or the others in the car, Dixon said in a statement. "We do not suspect any foul play, nor was there any malicious intent. . . . The family of Stephen Dixon would like to offer our condolences to Derek's family, and we pray the young lady in Stephen's car and the oncoming 22-year-old driver will have a speedy and full recovery."

Taylor Waldron

Waldron initially survived the crash but died a week later from his injuries.

"He passed away the day we thought he was coming home," his mother said. "I believe there is an identical story behind both these accidents. Both cars went to a concert, both went to parties after and both were drinking."

Waldron said her son was a gifted athlete who played numerous club sports. He planned to attend Northern Virginia Community College and then James Madison University to study psychology and eventually work with troubled children.

"He was a troubled teen and had some issues he was dealing with, so he thought it would be nice to put his experience to use and help other troubled teens," Waldron said. "Taylor was very charming and loving. People said you could know him for five minutes or five years and feel like his best friend."

Hornbrook said Taylor Waldron was more like a sibling than a cousin. She said she will miss his sense of humor and how no one could ever be in a bad mood when he was around.

The mothers of Waldron and Derek said they plan to work to stop underage drinking and drunken driving in the county. Prince William police tallied eight alcohol-related fatal crashes in the county last year.

"My gifted child is gone," Meffert said. "I'm going to ruffle a lot of feathers, and a lot of kids will be angry at me. But down the line, they will be alive, and that's what's important to me."

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